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.

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Urban Wildlife: Our Non-human Neighbors

Animals are a lot smarter that we think and will always find an opportunity for a free lunch. A process of animals adapting to urban life is called synurbization. The phenomenon that has emerged in the last few decades raises new challenges for wildlife managers.

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A view from my office: a roe deer resting in the landscape park Tivoli, Rožnik and Šišenski hrib.

Over the Hedge (2006) is one of my favorite computer-animated films. The main character of the story is RJ the raccoon. He shows the great piles of food that humans consume and waste to wild animals and asks them: “Why bother with foraging for food when we can just steel all the ‘yummy’ food from humans?” And then the trouble begins… 🙂

Cities all over the world are becoming home to a great variety of wildlife species, which became part of our everyday life. Most of the species became so common that we can’t imagine cities without them – think about the pigeons in the City of Venice. Feeding squirrels and birds in the city park Tivoli is one way that citizens of Ljubljana are maintaining contact with wildlife and interact with the natural environment.

Wildlife species need food, water, shelter and space to survive. They like the abundance of food in fields, orchards, gardens, parks and other urban ecological islands. So it is not surprising that wild animals are attracted to urban settings. And yes, disgusting as it may seem, human garbage is also a source of ‘free lunch’ that comes on a daily basis. While we enjoy the sight of bees feeding on flowers, we are not that thrilled to see a fox or a crow (or even a bear) going through our trash.

Cities provides water all year round, coming from various sources such as ponds, puddles, drainage ditches and fountains – oases where even in the hottest summers urban wildlife can find bathing and drinking water. In addition to food and water, the urban environment is an endless provider of cover where wildlife seeks protection, raise their young, nest or just rest. Most people don’t even notice all the opportunities where animals find their little hiding places. Well, at least until we don’t find out that we share our attic with a colony of bats or noisy dormice.

For humans, sharing urban environment with wildlife is acceptable until we don’t feel threatened or our possessions get endangered. When it comes to reducing human – wildlife conflicts, first a sound monitoring and management system has to be established. An urban wildlife manager has to understand the biology and ecology of a species and its interactions in an urban settings.

We manage wildlife with direct population reduction and by modification of animal habitat through habitat factors described previously. Somebody once said: “Wildlife management is, at its core, the management of people“and I couldn’t agree more. The concept of hunting animals is not highly acceptable among people who are living in cities. When we decide to kill or remove a problematic animal from an urban area, we also disturb a part of society that is worried about the pain and suffering of the animals. The key to managing wildlife populations in urban settings is habitat manipulation. Wildlife managers have to see the urban environment not just from anthropocentric aspect, but also from the ecological point of view.

When planning for urban greening and for urban forests, think about the wild animals living in the city!

Saša Vochl, Slovenian Forestry Institute, Department for Forest and Landscape Planning and Monitoring