Converting beech coppices into high forest stands has been promoted in the last decades as a management goal to attenuate the negative effects that frequent clearcutting may have on soil, landscape, and biodiversity conservation. The silvicultural tool usually adopted is the gradual thinning of shoots during the long span of time required to complete the conversion, that also allows the owner to keep harvesting some wood. This research reports and discusses, in the light of the ecological intensification approach, the results achieved from an experimental test started more than 25 years ago in a 42-year-old beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) coppice with standards in central Italy. The effects of various thinning intensities (three treatments plus a control) on the stand growth and structure are assessed by successive forest inventories. Analyses are integrated by spatial indices to assess stem density and canopy cover. Converting beech coppices into high forest through gradual thinning of shoots proves to be an effective step down the road to silvicultural systems characterized by continuous forest cover, as a tool of ecological intensification suitable to guarantee both public and private interests. Thinning has led to stands with fewer but larger stems, thus accelerating the long conversion process while maintaining both wood harvesting capability and environmental services.
Keywords: Continuous cover; Coppice with standards; Fagus sylvatica; Italy; Thinning.