Of the 11.4 million hectares of forest in Germany, 48 % are private forests. The Länder own 29 % of the forests, 19 % are communally owned and 4 % are owned by the Federal government.
The regional differences can be considerable. The percentage of private forest ranges from 24% in Hessen to 67 % in Nordrhein-Westfalen. It frequently predominates in more thinly settled rural regions. The percentage of state forest lies between 17 % in Nordrhein-Westfalen and 50% in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The largest part of today’s state forest is made up of formerly sovereign forests and secularized monastic lands. In Rheinland-Pfalz, the communal forests take up 46 %, in Brandenburg about 7 %, in Niedersachsen and Sachsen-Anhalt approximately 9 %. This percentage is often especially high in densely settled urban regions.
The private forests in Germany are largely of small structure and fragmented. Approximately half of the private forest area is shared by holdings with less than 20 hectares. Only 13 % of the private forests belong to holdings with a size of over 1,000 hectares. The ownership structures developed differently over history and from region to region. The small and smallest forest areas in private hands often were created in the course of historic farming settlement or through distribution of estates, distribution of common land or afforestation of agricultural areas. The number of communal and private forest owners in Germany is estimated at two million (According to “AGDW – Die Waldeigentümer).
Due to the large area owned by the small and smallest forest owners, their forestry consultation and supervision is an important field of forestry policy. The owners of small forest areas are often unfamiliar with the demands of sustainable forest management because of geographical distances, urban lifestyles or their vocations. In addition, the financial revenues from forest management are often negligibly small compared to the total income of the owners. In addition to questions about the use of the renewable resource timber, other aspects that necessitate special attention and support of small private forests by the Federal government and Länder with a view to the social benefits of the forests in future include forest tending, adapting to climate change, control of biotic damages, but also forest nature conservation and biodiversity.
The diversity of forest owners leads to different objectives in the treatment of the forests. Therefore, the forests differ in some parameters such as tree species composition, timber stock or utilization.