The term 'Waldsterben' was introduced in the early 1980s to describe the progressive death of forests that was believed to be occurring in Central Europe as a result of air pollution. Subsequent surveys and investigations have failed to confirm that forests are dying or are even declining over large areas of Central Europe, defined here as consisting of Germany, Switzerland, southeastern France (Alsace), the Czech Republic, northern Italy and Austria. Foliar injury by air pollutants, together with mortality, has occurred, but is generally restricted to specific locations in the Czech Republic and in eastern Germany, such as the Fichtelgebirge. Where foliar damage has been recorded, it can often be attributed to high concentrations of sulphur dioxide, often acting in combination with other stresses (e.g. frost or insects). Outside areas affected by local sources of pollution, there is little, if any, evidence that the crown condition of trees has been adversely affected by pollution over large areas. Instead, climate appears to have a major effect on the crown condition and growth of trees. Measurements and surveys have revealed a very different picture to that forecasted in the mid-1980s. Growth rates of trees and stands in Central Europe are currently higher than have been recorded at any time in the past; the reasons for this are uncertain, although increases in forest area have not substantially contributed to the observed trends. Although declines in individual species in specific areas have been recorded, past records indicate that these do not represent a new phenomenon. Consequently, the terms 'Waldsterben' (forest deaths) and 'neuartige Waldschaden' (novel type of forest damages) should not be used in the context of the phenomenon reported in Central Europe in the 1980s. Instead, different problems should be described separately and the term forest decline used only when there is clear evidence of a general deterioration in the condition of all tree species within a forest.