Successful mushroom Picking! Picture: Pixabay
Forests do many more things than just produce timber. They produce mushrooms and berries, they contribute to clean air and water, they are habitat for many important animal and plant species, and many more things. All these benefits that people get from forest are what is known as Forest Ecosystem Services. Some of these benefits are related to the way we use and experience the forest. We go to the forest to pick up mushrooms, berries or herbs, to practice sports, to enjoy nature, or just to go for a walk and escape from the routine. All these non-material benefits are Cultural Ecosystem Services of Forests (CES). Although society in general is increasingly using and valuing forests for their CES, policies, business models and support programmes to some degree still have difficulties to successfully incorporate them. As part of the EU Horizon 2020 programme, the European project SINCERE tries to find innovative strategies to promote multiple ecosystem services in European forests. One of the activities carried out has been to look into the current role of CES in European forest management and early results are now available in a new publication in Ecology and Society, Examining the relevance of cultural ecosystem services in forest management in Europe.
In a survey of 1,182 forest owners and managers from 25 countries across Europe, researchers from the University of Kassel, in collaboration with the European Landowners Association and the European Forest Institute, asked about the importance of CES in European forests, and what can be done to further promote such services. Dr. Mario Torralba from the University of Kassel states: “The results clearly show that the time has come for a stronger promotion of CES.” From an extensive list of 16 activities related to CES in forests, ranging from horseback riding, beekeeping or birdwatching, the results show that in a typical European forest, at least five of these activities currently take place. What is more surprising is that the attitude of forest owners towards CES is, in general, very positive. The willingness to further promote CES exceeds its current presence for almost every activity, while around 40% of European forests already actively consider these activities in their management plans.
Horseback riding in the forest: Picture: Erkki Oksanen
A closer look at the different activities taking place simultaneously shows that most CES are, to some extent, complementary. This means that many of them can be promoted jointly and would actually be strengthened by that. For example, by encouraging outdoor education in forests, you would also promote other CES like sports or birdwatching. However, not everything is a win-win. Many potential conflicts were reported between the recreational use of the forest and an active management of forests for other purposes. These conflicts usually had to do with inappropriate behaviours like littering or users accessing restricted areas. The results clearly suggest that we are in a process of making forests more open and closer to society, which can lead to multiple benefits for everyone (foresters and users). However, to achieve this goal it seems that more efforts are needed, not only by forest owners and managers but also by forest users, who must learn to make the best of their experiences in the forest without damaging it or its management.
While in a forest where CES are not important at the moment and the opinion towards them is rather negative, a strategy to promote CES should focus on direct stimulation; in similar cases where the attitude is more positive, the strategy should be oriented towards facilitation (for example with programmes for capacity development, or by simplifying bureaucracy). On other occasions, the situation would be more advanced and the strategy should focus on maintaining the status quo (for example with support and recognition programmes), or on innovating (experimenting new models and regulations). The overall message is that for successful promotion of CES, we need planning and policy frameworks that combine multiple tools, able to adapt to the local contexts and agreed upon with forest owners and users.Naturally, the situation is not uniform across Europe. Each forest has its own context, and even neighbouring forest owners might have radically different opinions on CES. One of the most important results has been the identification of four main different types of forest owners based on their attitudes, experiences and management practices in relation to CES. These four types mainly differ in their starting situation and socio-economic context, which strongly influences their opinions and capacities to promote CES in their forests. From a policy or business perspective, we tend to think on single solutions or measures to solve a problem. However, a close look at the results shows that for the promotion of CES in forests, each forest owner type would require a different strategy. These four different strategies would be stimulation, maintenance, facilitation and innovation.
Peace and quiet at the lake. Picture: Enrico Vidale
Torralba, M., Lovrić, M., Roux, J., Budniok, M., Mulier, A., Winkel, G. and Plieninger, T., 2020. Examining the relevance of cultural ecosystem services in forest management in Europe. Ecology and Society, 25(3).
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