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National Forest Inventories as a multipurpose tool for urban forests

Written by Itziar Aguinaga Gil

Urban environmental challenges require on-site environmental solutions. As such, green infrastructure is widely proposed as a feasible measure towards the resilience and sustainable development of urban areas.

Urban forests represent the back-bone of urban green infrastructure by connecting the rural and city interface, and they provide both environmental and social benefits given that an adequate implementation and management is in place. However, all efforts may fail if there are not consistent and universal tools to quantify and characterize the necessary factors involved in the practice, policy and decision-making process. That is why we should consider the potentials of integrating urban forests within the National Forest Inventory.

The National Forest Inventory (NFI) is a monitoring programme that aims to gather accurate information on the development of forests over time. Even though it is designated at the national level, comparable international reporting is encouraged through a synchronization project coordinated by the European Network of National Forest Inventories (ENFIN). When used as a multipurpose resource and combined with an urban focus, NFI may fill the gap between the demand for urban forestry solutions and its current data availability by providing national level data on urban forest resources. Thus, it may have the potential of working towards the integration and recognition of urban forests in national and international political agendas.

On March 15, 2018, the Nordic Forest Research Cooperation Committee (SNS) organized a policy outreach workshop on “Urban Forests in a European Perspective: what can the National Forest Inventory tell us?”. Through a pilot study approach involving 35 researchers, policy makers and practitioners from nine European countries, it was stated that by combining the NFI with the Degree of Urbanization data (DEGURBA) it is possible to obtain existing data on urban forests at the European level. This methodology enables to: upscale from case studies to higher levels; detail data from remote sensing tools to field based NFI monitoring; quantify urban forest-based ecosystem services through NFI parameters; and, qualify knowledge gaps towards policy and decision making.

It further encourages cross-sectoral partnerships and platforms to achieve a synthesis of knowledge on the challenges that urban societies encounter. Overall perspectives of the workshop pointed the need to translate or harmonise urban based factors into NFI parameters (such as regulating  or cultural ecosystem services related to well-being of users). They also raised the importance of integrating data protocols into routine measurements and applying the methodology in parallel with NFI approaches in other to facilitate the transfer of information. All these factors may contribute to the development of a holistic database of tree resources in urban areas.

Whether the outcome of the workshop served for awareness on the multipurpose side of NFI is open to debate. Urban forests are still waiting for a full integration within urban sustainability agendas, and international political initiatives might be the key towards the expansion of the professional relevance of the sector.  

Would you like to learn more on the state of urban forests? Attend the 2019 European Forum on Urban Forestry in the amazing city of Cologne (Germany). More information and registration at Early bird registrations end March 31!

For further reading check out the Nordic network of urban forestry and NFI, and European perspectivesP

Photo: @Lola Fatoyinbo/ Nasa Earth Observatory