The COVID 19 pandemic is transforming our society. All the basic elements of living together have radically changed in the past weeks: Where and how we work, whom we spend time with, whom we care about, what tasks and activities keep us busy. During the lockdown those that can, have been flocking into green spaces and urban forests for physical exercise and mental calming. At least this applies to those who are not locked down totally. Recent charts by Google, for instance, show an impressive increase of mobility toward places like national parks, public beaches, marinas, dog parks, plazas, and public gardens, amidst a general fall in mobility trends (e.g. the case of Germany).
Read more on the blog of the CLEARING HOUSE-project.
The Geographic Arboretum of Tervuren is a hidden gem at the heart of the Sonian Forest near Brussels. Its collection includes 30,000 trees and shrubs over 120 ha, representing over 600 species originating in 80 different forest types of the northern hemisphere. The selected plants are grouped together in a manner that replicates the typical forest landscape of the region of origin.
In their new book about the Geographic Arboretum of Tervuren, the arboretum managers – Patrick Huvenne (former EFUF delegate), Kevin Knevels and Wilfried Emmerechts – share their know-how and passion. They guide us through the amazing diversity of forests in America, Europe and Asia. They explain the specialised problems of managing a living collection of this kind and outline the challenges of sustainable forest management in an era of climate change. Their texts are supplemented with a large number of maps, graphs and historical documents.
The book will be published in May 2020 and will be available for 40 EUR (in Dutch, French, English and German). A pre-sale offer at 35 EUR (free shipping included) is available for those who order their copy through info-at-arboretum-tervuren.be (mention name, address and prefered language).
A recent study by Boston University suggests that “tree planting initiatives alone may not be sufficient to maintain urban canopies”.
Ian Smith and his colleagues indicate that “efforts to aid in the establishment and preservation of tree health are imperative for increasing urban tree cover and maximizing the wide range of ecosystem services provided by the urban canopy”.
The last SOFO, published in 2018, for the first time ever discusses the role of urban forests under the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In response to the accelerated urbanisation coupled with climate change dynamics, urban forests are viewed as a valuable contribution to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” (SDG 11). Both in theory and practice, urban forests and trees have a positive impact on urban environmental conditions and citizens´ livelihoods and well-being.
The potential value of urban forests for urban areas depends on whether their management is integrated in the urban planning dynamics early on. An early integration allows an equitable distribution of green areas across the urban landscape and enhances the resilience of the city on the long run. As such, the city should invest in financial resources to provide the proper implementation of urban forestry projects and its monitoring over time.
Several tools have been developed to quantify the environmental and sociocultural benefits of urban forests and trees. For instance, i-Tree Eco, a software developed by the US Forest Service, is considered one of the most promising tools to assess both the composition and ecosystem services provided by urban forests and trees in monetary terms. Thanks to this tool, it has been estimated that the annual pollution removal effect of urban trees in London is worth 126 million GBP (Rogers et al., 2015).
Another tool to evaluate the benefits of urban forests is to assess the tree cover of cultural heritage sites that include natural elements. In fact, many cultural sites (which also embrace UNESCO World Heritage Sites) tend to have a high percentage of forest and tree cover that is highly valued by its visitors. This aesthetic benefit can greatly contribute to the sense of identity and attachment of urban dwellers by creating positive connections with local landmarks.
Urban forests and trees are also considered as an important factor enhancing local biodiversity. They provide habitats for numerous species and provide natural networks within the fragmented urban landscape. The importance of restoring local biodiversity through urban greening is evident in the light of the increase of urban natural protected areas during the last 15 years in countries like Germany, South Korea and Brazil (WDPA, 2017). Such areas do not only provide cities with ecosystem services, but also allow citizens to connect with natural habitats. Human-nature connections weaken over time in urban settings, and thus, urban natural protected areas help to “provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible green and public spaces” (SDG 11.7).
In addition, together with cultural heritage sites, natural protected areas and safe and accessible green spaces such as urban forests contribute to the sense of belonging and identification of local communities. This may translate, among others, into improved well-being of citizens through enhancing recreational actives and aesthetic values.
In a nutshell, urban citizens have more demands, but cities’ capacities are declining, so local surroundings need to improve through adequate urban planning. When positively integrated and monitored, urban forests can contribute to the sustainable development of cities by upgrading the livelihoods and well-being of urban dwellers. The benefits come both in the form of additional ecosystem services and improved socio-cultural factors.
There are many success stories around the world involving forests and cities, yet there may be more win-win solutions to come!
Would you like to learn more on how urban forests contribute to liveable cities? Check out the latest news through the European Forum on Urban Forestry2019 at http://2019.efuf.org.
Playing and learning in forest and nature stimulates the imagination, creativity and entrepreneurship. Besides, nature is a great place to gain experience for the development of social and motor skills. The positive impact of a green learning environment is even more significant when working with children with cognitive disabilities, learning disorders, attention disabilities (such as ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders. In an informal natural environment, these children learn better than in a classroom. A green learning environment therefore increases their chances in society meaningfully. From this determination, EFUF partners BOS+ (Belgium), GOZDIS (Slovenian Forestry Institute) and Merseyforest (UK), together with schools and partners from Slovenia and England, has been executing the Green Learning Environments project, with co-funding from the ERASMUS+ programme from the European Commission and EPOS-Vlaanderen.
Based on the experiences and expertise gathered during the three year project, the project has published a Policy Brief. With this document they aim to raise awareness on the concept of Green Learning Environments and the positive impacts of green environments on learning outcomes for children with mental disabilities. The brief starts with sketching the background and some scientific evidence on the topic, describes obstacles for implementing green learning with children with mental issues, sketches the project findings, and ends with recommendations for practice and policy.
The policy recommendations are particularly interesting, as they sketch how joint efforts by the education and urban greening sectors can ameliorate the lives of children with special educational needs. These recommendations include:
Non-formal learning activities in green learning environments should become part of the educational system for all children in Europe.
The education systems across Europe should look to provide support for more green learning, including increasing awareness regarding the benefits of learning in natural environment, the creation of sites for teaching in the natural environment and signposting to organisation that can provide support (Jelen, 2018).
Learning and spending time in green learning environments can make an important contribution to the increased social inclusion of children with special needs. Green learning environments promote the skills and competences that are important for lifelong learning and the social inclusion of all children.
Accessible green should be provided close to schools. Where possible it should be provided within school grounds to allow as many children as possible to enjoy a green learning environment.
Next to the policy brief, the project also also published a searchable database with good examples, a toolbox for teachers and educators, and a comprehensive pedagogical approach that includes interesting background information about the advantages of green learning environments.
EFI and EFUF combining strengths to facilitate urban forest-based solutions employment in Europe
Building on their mutual strengths, the European Forest Institute (EFI) and the European Forum on Urban Forestry (EFUF) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding strategic collaboration on research and policy in the field of urban forestry on Friday, 30th November 2018. This collaboration will further the understanding of the potential of urban forests, forestry, nature-, and bio-based solutions in supporting the development of sustainable cities. Both organisations will jointly develop a strategic approach to facilitate the employment of urban forest-based solutions in European cities, through coordinated communication, research and development efforts. Throughout the collaboration, EFI’s forest-based scientific experience and its European-wide science-policy network and EFUF’s multidisciplinary network with local authorities, practitioners and researchers will be complementary in developing a stronger discourse on urban forest-based solutions.
A first common initiative developed within the MoU framework, is the launch of the Call for Abstract for the 22nd session of the European Forum on Urban Forestry in Cologne (Germany). The EFUF2019 conference has been branded “Urban Forests: Full of Energy” and will focus on the role of urban forests as providers of energy, both through woody biomass and through physical activity, art, learning and collaborative working. EFUF is organised at the “Waldlabor” (Forestlab) in Cologne, which is a magnificent place for exchanging knowledge based on participatory science and experiments.
The European Forest Institute (EFI) is an independent international science organisation, which generates, connects and shares knowledge at the interface between science, policy and society. EFI has 29 member countries who have ratified the Convention, and c. 115 member organisations in 39 countries, working in diverse research fields. https://efi.int/
The European Forum on Urban Forestry (EFUF) is a network for forest and greenspace managers, planners, architects, researchers, public authorities and policy makers to share interdisciplinary experience and good practices within the field of urban greening, urban forests and urban forestry. This science-policy-practice network provides a unique meeting place to discuss advancements and exchange knowledge regarding strengthening the role of trees, woodlands and forests as green infrastructure when working towards resilient cities. www.efuf.org
EFUF2019 – “Urban Forests: Full of Energy” – is financially supported by the Ministry of Environment, Agriculture, Nature Protection and Consumer Protection of the State Nordrhein-Westfalia and organised by EFUF and EFI Bonn Office in cooperation with the German Sport University Cologne, the City of Cologne and the RWTH Aachen University. The conference will take place on 22–24 May 2019 in Cologne (Germany). http://2019.efuf.org
Marc Palahi, Director European Forest Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org
Clive Davies, Chair of the International Steering Committee of the European Forum on Urban Forestry, email@example.com
Rik De Vreese, Contracted Expert for Urban Forestry at the European Forest Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org