The beech forests in Austria are genetically linked to the population of a refuge area in the Illyrian-Dinaric Mountains of South-East Europe, from where the beech was able to expand to the Alpine region after the ice age.
In the 18th and 19th century, the beech forests came under considerable pressure due to the high demand for firewood. Large areas were cleared for settlements and agricultural land. Today, only 28% of the potential natural beech forest areas in Austria are covered with beech. Ancient, near-natural beech forests have become rare and Central European beech forests such as those in Austria are among the most threatened forest ecosystems of the world.
The beech forests of Kalkalpen National Park and Dürrenstein Wilderness Area represent the distribution area of the beech in the Alps. The Dürrenstein World Heritage property in Lower Austria is considered the largest untouched primeval beech forest in the Alps with a completely undisturbed development. In the area’s core zone, individual beech aged 400 to 500 years can be found.
The Kalkalpen World Heritage Area in Upper Austria comprises four component parts with precious beech forests embedded in the boundaries of Kalkalpen National Park. The forests are largely intact, despite their economic exploitation in the past: Over 75 percent of the trees are older than 140 years and are categorised as natural or near-natural. The oldest beech of the Alps deserves a special mention here: It is about 550 years old.