EFUF 2016 Live – Tune In Now!

The European Forum on Urban Forestry 2016 will be broadcasted over the internet to ensure that anyone can participate. Here’s how to tune in:

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IMPORTANT: Please don’t forget to use our official hashtag – #EFUF2016  – when creating tweets or facebook posts about the Forum.

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Watch the webcast on this link (Embedded below – the webcast begins 1.6.2016 at 9:00 CET).

For more information on the programme and the conference, please visit the EFUF 2016 official website.

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Green Divides in Cities Are Also Health Divides

What is the cost of losing everyday contact with natural spaces in favour of more urban development? Find out more in this blog by the #EFUF2016 invited blogger, Tara Zupančič, MPH.

I was twelve years old when I first visited Slovenia. I spent my summer on the mountain where my father grew up. Among 300 acres of trees, I would love to watch the mist lift from the valley floor into the ether. My soul felt alive there, and like many people, I have grown to depend on nature to hoist my spirit, provide refuge from the heat, and restore my sense of home on this planet. So when I tell people that I study the relationship between nature and health, I’m often met with an incredulous look. Isn’t it well established that nature provides the very foundation of human health? My head bobs yes, as I explain myself.

The push for research on the health benefits of nature is related to our increasingly urban existence. Competing needs for roads, houses, and industry can easily overtake greener pastures. Nature is typically viewed as something beyond urban borders and not part of our daily city life. As cities expand their borders to house the majority of the world’s population, we need to ask, what is the cost of losing everyday contact with natural spaces in favour of more urban development? In the face of competing land use needs, is a stand of trees that important?

Despite advances in health care, our lifelong health is largely determined by our social and economic position and the settings where we live, work, and play. A strong and growing body of evidence shows that everyday contact with urban nature is critical to our well-being and is significantly associated with healthier births, as well as reduced mortality, obesity, chronic disease, depression and anxiety. Access to nature is especially important for children and is significantly associated with increased play, physical activity, and cognitive and motor development.

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Unfortunately, the ability to enjoy the benefits of nature often falls along social and economic divides, deepening health inequalities in cities. This means that poor health, disproportionately borne by those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, is compounded by greater environmental burdens where they live. For example, a European systematic review showed that socially disadvantaged children commonly suffer from multiple and cumulative health burdens related to poor quality housing, greater exposure to traffic and industrial pollution, and a lack of healthy, natural spaces where they live. These children are more susceptible to harm from adverse environmental conditions because they often lack protective factors such as adequate nutrition, opportunity for play and essential health care.

Tackling health inequalities is a major global health priority, and ensuring equitable access to nature must be part of that strategy. While exposure to nature can benefit everyone, there is consistent evidence that the benefits are strongest among socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.

The association between green space and reduced mortality has been found to be strongest in the most socioeconomically deprived urban areas. Increased green space exposure also appears to decrease the effect of income deprivation on all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. Multiple studies on green space exposure and birth have found that the strongest positive associations are found among the most socially disadvantaged. It is not clear why these stronger associations exist but emerging evidence suggests that nature may provide a buffer from difficult life circumstances, and be protective against stress as a setting for emotional, physical, and social support.

The benefits of everyday contact with nature are vast and there is a need to ensure that this nurturing from nature is not determined by a person’s wealth, income, or ability to leave the city. Time in nature is an essential right of childhood and sets a critical foundation for lifelong health. As an increasingly urban planet, we need to configure our cities to maximize nature in every nook and cranny and guarantee everyone is free to benefit from it. Instead of planning the apportioning of trees amid sprawling cites, there is an opportunity to plan vibrant cities amid great forest canopies. Our health depends on it.

Studies referenced:

Bolte, G., Tamburlini, G., & Kohlhuber, M. (2010). Environmental inequalities among children in Europe—evaluation of scientific evidence and policy implications. The European Journal of Public Health, 20(1), 14-20.

Brown, S. C., Lombard, J., Wang, K., Byrne, M. M., Toro, M., Plater-Zyberk, E., … & Pantin, H. M. (2016). Neighborhood Greenness and Chronic Health Conditions in Medicare Beneficiaries. American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

James, P., Banay, R. F., Hart, J. E., & Laden, F. (2015). A review of the health benefits of greenness. Current epidemiology reports, 2(2), 131-142.

About the author: Tara Zupančič, MPH is the Founder and Director of Habitus Research in Canada.

The Secret Life Of Trees

Do trees have a secret life that we rarely think about? Find out in this blog by Astrid Hamm, a consultant in the fields of Urban Forestry and Urban Greening currently working in Germany.

Forests are communities of trees. Most people look at trees as woody plants that provide us with timber. Many people enjoy their recreational aspects, landscape aesthetics, and their positive influences on human health and well-being. In recent years, our professional focus has moved on to numerous ecosystem services and environmental benefits trees provide to our society, such as reducing air pollution and storm water attenuation.

We are Urban Forestry professionals – but do we really know enough about trees? Are there different aspects to trees and urban forests that we haven’t explored yet?

Trees are the second-largest, but above-ground largest living beings on earth. Do we ever consider that trees may be able to communicate and interact with each other? Do trees have a ‘social life’? Do they care for other trees? Is there such a thing as ‘sympathy’, preference or dislike among trees and tree species – is it possible that a tree “can’t smell” (= dislikes) another tree? Can trees pass on their ‘knowledge’ to others? Do they communicate with each other, or even with us? Is it possible for trees to interact, even though they are fixed to their location?

In his book “The Secret Life Of Trees” German Forester Peter Wohlleben writes about a wide variety of ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ research studies from all over the world, looking at trees from different perspectives. He describes the forest as a community where strong trees support weaker ‘community members’. Similar to human society, a natural forest seems to work along the principle ‘together we are strong’. According to various studies, trees interact and communicate with each other in several ways. They also take care of each other and look after their offspring, as well as nursing the ‘elderly’. If there are pest attacks or other dangers approaching, they will ‘warn’ other trees by releasing gaseous odors. Similar to humans, they don’t like to interact with just any other tree. So is there such a thing as “tree sympathy”? Do trees develop “feelings”, such as compassion, like and dislike?

Wohlleben wants us to acknowledge trees as living beings they are. He presents scientific findings in his own language, comprehensible for everyone. He passionately campaigns for a different – more humane – attitude towards trees as social ‘creatures’ with their own needs and requirements as members of a forest community.

So maybe Urban Foresters have to learn much more about ‘the secret life of trees’ beyond our current knowledge to effectively promote urban forests.

‘The Secret Life Of Trees’ will be translated into English in autumn 2016, after being a top ten bestseller in the category “non-fiction” in Germany 2015.

This book is an appeal to everyone that we can still learn a lot about and from trees.

Wohlleben Cover

This blog post is authored by Astrid Hamm and is a part of the #EFUF2016 blog competition. Join in to win a free conference package! Want to learn more about Astrid’s work? Visit her project Citybranching/Stadtverzwingungen!