Highlights: National Forest Inventories supply invaluable long term time series of forest state. Recent developments and international harmonization of modern NFIs widen the scope to even include ecosystem goods, e.g. biodiversity and carbon sequestration. The combination of NFI field data with remote sensing techniques can give good estimates for areas smaller than national and regional level.
National Forest Inventories (NFIs) are becoming increasingly important worldwide in order to provide information about the multiple functions of forests, e.g. their provision of raw materials to industry, biodiversity and their capacity to store carbon for mitigating climate change. In several countries the history of NFIs is very long. For these countries a specific challenge is to keep the inventories up-to-date without sacrificing the advantages associated with long time series. At the turn of the 20th century European NFIs faced some major challenges. In this article we describe the history and the recent developments of the Swedish NFI as an example from which general observations are made and discussed. The Swedish NFI started in 1923 and has evolved from an inventory with a narrow focus on wood resources to an inventory today which aims to provide information about all major forest ecosystem services. It can be concluded that the traditional approaches of most European NFIs, e.g. to collect data through sample plot field inventories, has proved to be applicable even for a wide range of new information requirements. Specifically, detailed data about land use, trees, vegetation, and soils has found new important uses in connection with biodiversity assessments and the estimation of greenhouse gas emissions. Though time-consuming and difficult, making NFI information comparable across countries through harmonization appears to be a useful approach. The European National Forest Inventory Network (ENFIN) was formed in 2003 and has been successful in pan-European NFI harmonization.