Beech is the second most common tree species in France and constitutes about ten percent of French forests. The history of the beech dates back 15 million years but its domination over Europe only began after the last glacial period 11,000 years ago, when the species expanded from a dozen of "refuge areas" in Southern and Western Europe.
In France, the main refuge areas were in the Pyrenees, the Alps, and the Mediterranean region, allowing for various lineages to colonise very diverse environments.
Today, the beech is well distributed across the country and beech forests are found in all five main climatic regions: the lowland Atlantic, the continental low mountain ranges, the Alps, the Pyrenees, and the Mediterranean region.
The area of the French component parts zoned as World Heritage is 929.8 hectares in size.
France's World Heritage components are spread across three different climatic and altitudinal zones: Massane forest is suspended over the Mediterranean Sea at the eastern end of the Pyrenees, Chapitre forest hangs on the last western slopes of the Alps, and Grand Ventron forest sits in the heart of the Vosges mountains.
While all of these forests were withdrawn from exploitation decades ago, each individual forest has its own story: being property of the church, hardly accessible, and/or located on a border. These mature forests continue to evolve today according to natural cycles of tree growth, death and decay and are home to thousands of species.
These forests are part of the most outstanding examples of natural beech forest diversity.