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Forests as critical infrastructure? Integrated Forest Management and recreation for forests and people – Virtual Excursion during the Urban Forestry Days 23-24 March

How to bring more than 600 policy planners, decision-makers, practitioners, researchers and urban forestry enthusiasts into the forest in times of social distancing? The first day of the Urban Forestry Days (23 – 24 March 2021) held a special highlight for the participants, who joined from over 68 countries all around the globe. The two-day collaborative event of integrated Urban Forestry activities was hosted by the European Forest Institute (EFI), the European Forum on Urban Forestry (EFUF) and the Horizon 2020 CLEARING HOUSE project.

“Public involvement and engagement bring valuable information to decision-making processes”,

Renate Späth

After a day packed with the latest urban forestry developments, insights on integrated forest management and lively discussions about the role of urban forests for co-creating more sustainable cities, a virtual excursion brought the participants right into Kottenforst. Located in the southwest of Bonn in North Rhine-Westphalia, the 4.000 hectares peri-urban forest area serves as a stage to enjoy nature, recreate, meet people and engage in discussions. A group of urban forestry experts accompanied the visual experience. While live-commenting the virtual excursion, they shed light on environmental education, microhabitats, marteloscopes and the importance of enabling and enhancing dialogue about forests and forest policy. As part of a Q&A session, facilitator Maria Schloßmacher (EFI) encouraged participants to share their thoughts and ask questions directly to the experts.

Public Urban Forests – environmental education for all

Starting off the virtual excursion, Heike Hückesfeld (House of Nature, Bonn) invited the participants to learn about the environmental education facility located in the middle of the Kottenforst forest. Here, the peri-urban forest area welcomes people to exercise, unwind and develop environmental awareness. The forest comes as a habitat with many different facets – through participating in a wide range of workshops, nature activities and tours around the forests, visitors can experience the forest with all their senses. Be it exploring the living soil with all its crawling diversity, learning about the importance of dead wood for life in the forest, or discovering the significant role of the (500-700!) fungi species in the Kottenforst. Besides the many outdoor adventures, the permanent exhibition on urban forests allows a unique indoor forest learning experience.

Marteloscopes, Microhabitats and Integrated Forest Management

Setting up a Marteloscope, Photo by Maria Schloßmacher

The next stop during the virtual excursion started right in between the trees. Andreas Schuck (EFI) led the participants to a Marteloscope in the Kottenforst and explained the idea behind the concept. Marteloscopes serve as demonstration sites within the forest, allowing for education and training activities to better understand forest management decisions and individual tree selection.

Comprising a 1-hectare rectangular forest site, where each tree is numbered, mapped and recorded, a Marteloscope also invites visitors to get to know the site during guided field exercises to grasp the diverse facets of ecosystem services and their management challenges. Besides looking at species types, forest mensuration data and timber quality, Marteloscopes focus on tree microhabitats. Why are large dead branches, cracks, loose bark, or tree cavities crucial for biodiversity?

Deadwood promoting life in the forests, Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

These microhabitats are home to specialized and often endangered forest species of both flora and fauna. Therefore, they represent a paramount aspect when assessing the ecological value of individual tree and the whole forest area. But how can the economic value of a forest in terms of micro-habitats be estimated? Andreas Schuck suggested to look at key aspects, such as how long it takes for a natural structure to develop and how many species are dependent on this structure.

“In a managed forest, we need to manage both economic and ecological benefits to balance demands for recreation, well-being, wood production and overall healthy, resilience and biodiverse forests”,

Andreas Schuck

Uwe Schölmerich, former head of the State Forest Enterprise Rhein-Sieg-Erft from the regional forest service “Wald und Holz NRW”  and in this position also chair of the ‘Arbeitsgemeinschaft Naturgemäße Waldwirtschaft North-Rhine Westphalia (ANW)’ in Germany (Pro Silva Germany, North-Rhine Westphalia) took on the virtual tour. He led the participants through the Kottenforst, explaining what is needed to operate nature-oriented integrated forest management in an urban environment: Well-qualified staff is indispensable.

The harvest of timber does not necessarily clash with nature protection when taking care of microhabitats and ecological niches while ensuring appropriately qualified personnel”,

Uwe Schölmerich

As of the early forest managers to join the Integrate Network from Germany and to build up the Marteloscope in the Kottenforst, the ‘Jägerhäuschen’, Uwe Schölmerich worked at the interface of forestry and society for many years. During this time, he brought a significant number of foresters, nature conservationists, students and all those eager to learn about integrated forest management into the forest. You can read more about his valuable work in a tribute by EFI Bonn colleagues here.

ZEITENWENDE – Turn of an era

Zeitenwende – turn of an era, Photo by Maria Schloßmacher

Finally, Renate Späth (Ministry for the Environment, Agriculture, Nature Conservation and Consumer Protection (MULNV) NRW) guided the participants to a special place in the middle of the forest to round off the virtual excursion with a central message. The white letters located in the middle of a former forest area, which was destroyed by bark beetle damage and drought, seek to raise awareness about the severe consequences of climate change.

Facing the turn of an area, the ZEITENWENDE project in the Kottenforst does not only point out the challenges we are facing, but also turns the forest into a multifaceted place to meet, experience art, cultural activities and open discourse. Manfred Hören from the Rhine-Sieg-Erft Regional Forestry Office Wald und Holz NRW initiated the project “wald.anders.denken”, which impressively draws attention to the forest dieback in the Kottenforst and the importance of our forests for humans and the planet. Together with various local institutions and ministries, a colorful and diverse programme is being organised, which – among others at wald.anders.denken – will also extend into the second half of 2021. Learn more here (blogpost in German).

People adding their thoughts, feelings, messages and poems about the forest crisis, Photo by Maria Schloßmacher

Do you want to explore the Kottenforst yourself? Enter the forest right here:

House of Nature/Heike Hückesfeld

Marteloscopes and Microhabitats/Andreas Schuck

Integrated Forest Management/Uwe Schölmerich

Zeitenwende/Renate Späth

-The CLEARING HOUSE project has received funding from the European H2020 Research and Innovation programme under the Grant Agreement n° 821242.-


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