Urban Children Need (Urban) Forests

This time we present a very special blog – a child’s perspective on urban forests! Find out what 5-year old Jan has to say about urban forests in this blog written down by Natalija Györek, initiator of the Slovenian Network of Forest Kindergartens and Schools.

I hope this contribution will not surprise you. It is not a scientific blog about urban forests, but it is true to life. It is about (urban) children – their journey into the world, their development, learning, and their view of the world around them. An urban forest should be a place they experience positively, because it is generous, encouraging, infinitely surprising and pleasing to the senses. It should be a world that invokes the memory of forests and nature, all the way from childhood to adulthood.

My name is Jan. I’m five years old. I live with my mum, dad and my younger brother in a big city called Ljubljana. Every day my mum and dad take me to a nearby kindergarten, where I play with my friends, go for many walks and have a good time. In kindergarten I like playing outside the most. I’m also very happy when teachers Marjeta and Tanja take us for a walk. I like climbing over fences, up the slide and climbing the trees, which are my favourite. But my teachers say we mustn’t climb the trees growing in playgrounds and in the city, because we could break the branches and hurt them. We’re also not allowed to tear leaves off trees, even though I sometimes want to put one in my pocket and show it to my mum. That’s probably why they’re closed in iron boxes, from which I can’t even pick the pebbles I love so much. Marjeta and Tanja also explained to us that these trees decorate our city and clean our air. But I don’t quite understand how trees can clean our air.

One day Marjeta and Tanja told us we were going for a walk to a nearby forest. That’s where the “real trees” grow, unlike the ones that are put in boxes. We took a bus to Rožnik Hill on the other side of the city. There’s a big urban forest there and children can get lost in it, but Marjeta and Tanja let us play there. Oh my, the things we did! We could climb over slippery stumps – I fell a few times, but I didn’t cry. With my friends, Tomaž and Peter, we drilled holes into the ground and hid behind bushes. You can hide so well in the forest that no one can find you. We found three snails and two spiders, which is as many as the fingers on one hand, and we just couldn’t stop looking at them. I might have been a little afraid of them, but I won’t tell that to anyone but my mum. We also built the best house out of forest sticks. Why do we find so many sticks in the forest, but there aren’t any in the city? Maybe adults pick them up at night.

I was happy to finally see real trees – the kind you can climb and no one gets angry. Marjeta and Tanja too came back from the forest in a good mood. That day we ate all the macaroni and quickly fell asleep.

When we came to the kindergarten the next day Marjeta and Tanja explained to us that from then on we would be visiting the forest on Rožnik Hill once a week and that we would become a forest kindergarten and join other kindergartens in the Network of Forest Kindergartens and Schools of Slovenia. I like that a lot. I like going to the forest because there we can get ourselves dirty and no one gets angry. I can’t wait for next week when we go to the forest again!

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This blog was written down by Natalija Györek, founder of the Institute for Forest Pedagogics, on behalf of Jan and all the children.

 

 

Monitoring of Urban Forests – LIFE+ EMoNFUr

The benefits of urban forests for citizens and the most important results of the LIFE+ EMoNFUr project are introduced by our invited blogger Dr. Urša Vilhar, research fellow at the Forest Ecology Department of the Slovenian Forestry Institute.

Forest, trees, parks and other green areas in urban landscapes are the irreplaceable part of the nature and our environment and especially important for citizens. Urban forests are important because they provide direct contact with nature to citizens, peace, relaxation, aesthetics and in Slovenia they are frequently visited for recreation. At the same time urban forests provide a great deal of ecosystem services that play an important role at insuring the health and improving the citizens’ quality of life. Namely, urban forests filter air, protect water quality, reduce soil erosion etc. In addition, trees and soils store carbon and reduce concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But the climate changes reduce the ability of urban forests to provide these benefits for the environment and people.

The most important results of LIFE+ EMoNFUr

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In the LIFE+ EMoNFUr project a monitoring network was established to assess lowland forests in Milan (Italy) and Ljubljana (Slovenia). Monitoring of urban forests was set up at five study areas in Milan and two in Slovenia during a 3-year period.

A network of permanent plots for monitoring urban forests was established in Milan and Ljubljana. The inventory of urban and peri-urban forests was preformed in Milan. Researchers from the Slovenian Forestry Institute assessed diversity of selected plant and animal species, monitored insects and diseases of forest trees and their health status in Ljubljana’s urban forests. They have also analyzed soil pollution, monitored visits to the urban forest, assessed air pollution, analyzed tree growth, assessed forest inventory, estimated carbon stocks in trees and forest soils, monitored water quality and quantity from forested watershed, etc.

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A part of the LIFE+ EMoNFUr project monitoring network in the Landscape park Tivoli, Rožnik and Šišenski hrib for monitoring urban forests. The Forest inventory revealed that 1 hectare of urban forest on average sequestrated 138 tonnes of carbon in above ground, below ground and dead wood biomass.

The results have shown that:

  • Tree health is especially important in urban areas – diseased or injured trees can pose threat to humans and property.
  • Urban forests sustain the quality of drinking water sources and have a large capacity for retaining excess stormwater and melting snow.
  • Forest soils in Ljubljana have proved to be well preserved and represent one of the cleanest environments in Ljubljana.
  • In urban forests, the air temperatures during the heat wave are appreciably lower than in the urban center.
  • the diversity of plant and animal species is an important indicator of biodiversity in the urban forest
  • At the same time urban forests serve as natural filter for pollutants, while in average 1 hectare of urban forest binds 138 tons of carbon.

The most important EMoNFUr project results are the online guidelines and the Protocol for monitoring urban forests, which can be used by any city in Europe and around the world. The documents include a wide range of recommendations and criteria for detailed descriptions of ecological, environmental and social values of urban forests.

Dr. Urša Vilhar, Slovenian Forestry Institute

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Acknowledgement: the  LIFE+ EMoNFUr project was financially supported by the European Commission’s LIFE – Financial Instrument for the Environment.