Press "Enter" to skip to content

A SINCERE interest in forest ecosystem services

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” -John Muir

Forests have more to offer than timber and wood products. Through its multifunctional nature, it provides several other goods and services such as carbon sequestration, erosion control and the provision of clean water. These benefits which people obtain from forests can collectively be referred to as “forest ecosystem services”.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) 2005 report classifies ecosystem services into three categories:

  • Provisioning services (e.g. food, fresh water, firewood)
  • Regulatory services (e.g. climate regulation, carbon sequestration)
  • Cultural ecosystem services (nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences)

The demand for forest ecosystem services are increasing as a result of the growing population and urbanisation. The challenge is to align the provision of forest ecosystem services with societal demands. SINCERESpurring INnovations for forest eCosystem sERvices in Europe has the goal to advance innovative mechanisms, including novel policies ad business models, which support the provision of FES (forest ecosystem services) across Europe, and simultaneously align these innovative mechanisms with a supportive policy framework.

Through the SINCERE Learning Architecture key local stakeholders, such as forest owners, managers and users, local authorities, entrepreneurs and forest-owner associations through 11 case studies in 9 countries within Europe and beyond, develop, implement and evaluate different innovation actions. Some of these case studies include a forest habitat biodiversity payment scheme, “funeral forest” (cemeteries in forests, also called “memory forests”), a mushroom collection initiative and a payment for ecosystem services scheme in relation to water (upstream landowners are paid by downstream water users to manage their forests in such a way as not to tarnish the water quality and flow). In each of these case studies, an innovative approach is taken towards services provided by the forest, other than wood production. Check out our website for a description of each of the case studies

Most people are aware of the provisioning and regulatory ES (ecosystem services), but often forget about cultural ES. Cultural forest ecosystem services include using the forest for recreational services, as a source of inspiration as well as for spiritual and religious values although the definitions and division sometimes overlap (e.g. jogging or walking in the forest – recreation as well as spiritual)

Spiritual ecosystem services and values of forests (SES) are a subgroup of cultural ecosystem services and are defined by the MA 2005 report as “sacred, religious, or other forms of spiritual inspiration derived from ecosystem services”. The term ‘spiritual’ does not only refer to religious aspects, but to all aspects of the human spirit (the inner character and feelings of a person). 

Humans have traditionally a strong cultural and spiritual connection with the forest. Remnants of this connection are, for example, sacred crosses and chapels in European forests, Shinto shrines in Japan and sacred Muslim groves in Iran.

However, as a result of increasing urbanisation, work pressure and mental stress, cultural ecosystems have become an even greater source of interest. Some activities include spiritual inspired mental recreation activities, such as forest bathing and the use of healing forests.

Spiritual and emotional connections to forests can sometimes be of great importance for forest policy and management (e.g. resulting in the protection of forests, or a specific kind of management targeting the supply of related cultural ecosystem services). Moreover, in market-driven society, commercialization of such services may take place, e.g. through funeral forests or various forms of spiritual inspired mental recreation activities such as yoga in the forest.

Check out the video for a more detailed explanation

Besides an ongoing participatory assessment, as part of the Learning Architecture a SINCERE Learning-Lab Workshop is planned for October 2019. One section of this workshop will focus specifically on spiritual forest ecosystem services.  

This specific section of the SINCERE Learning-Lab Workshop will bring together leading experts and researchers from Asia and Europe to clarify concepts, explore the state of research and compare existing knowledge on spiritual forest ecosystems from different perspectives and by so doing serve as a cross-fertilization and learning experience across continents. 

SINCERE is a four-year project funded through the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme. For more information visit or check out the SINCERE Facebook page: Sincere Forests


Leave a Reply