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Unlocking the potential of urban forests

Developing a Local Urban Forestry Action Plan

Are you interested in gaining a quick overview of the huge potential that urban forestry offers to solve environmental, social, and economic challenges in cities? Do you want to learn how increasing the presence of trees and other vegetation in cities can contribute to urban resilience? EFI’s Urban Forestry Team members from the Resilience Programme in Bonn (Juliet Achieng Owuor, Ian Whitehead and Rik De Vreese) have recently been involved in editing and co-authoring a new publication, entitled “Unlocking the Potential of Urban Forests”, which has been the result of a huge effort of some of the world’s leading professionals and researchers in urban forestry.

The publication proposes an integrated vision for urban forestry which delivers multifunctional objectives through the involvement of diverse local stakeholders, whilst effectively responding to wide-ranging sustainability challenges and societal demands. These include the need to fight climate change, to retain biodiversity and to improve overall health and wellbeing of urban citizens through providing everyday opportunities for contact with nature. It proposes practical steps to achieve this vision, whilst considering the bigger picture of how urban forestry can be an effective tool to deliver key aspects of EU policy.

Aim of the report is to provide background and practical guidelines to policy and decision-makers working at local, national and European level, for the development of effective Urban Forestry Action Plans, in an effort to stimulate and simplify the adoption and implementation of urban forestry nature-based solutions.

Urban forestry can help deliver an integrated EU policy agenda:

Urban forestry has an enormous potential to benefit all sectors of society and the delivery of diverse ecosystem services. In recent years policy makers, city planners and citizens have shown increased interest about urban forestry as an efficient nature-based approach to tackle many challenges connected to urbanisation and climate change. Faced with these challenges, cities need to build resilience through adaptation, mitigation, and disaster risk reduction measures to continue offering multiple benefits and services to their inhabitants. Increasing the presence of trees and other vegetation in cities can contribute to urban resilience. On a European level, urban forests can make a valuable contribution to the delivery of key EU policies, such as the New Green Deal, the EU Biodiversity Strategy, and the EU Urban Agenda. Trees and woodlands in urban greenspaces can also greatly benefit the health and wellbeing of city dwellers, for example, by providing spaces for physical activity, relaxation, and social interaction.

Making the connections – Urban Forestry and Green Infrastructure:

Urban Forestry should be a core component of green infrastructure strategies, which focus on planned networks of natural and semi-natural spaces. These must consider the whole urban environment, moving away from a focus on individual areas. Indeed, it is only through well-connected networks of greenspaces (including woodlands, parks, meadows, gardens, and institutional grounds) and water related features (such as ponds, streams, canals, and wetlands) that the multiple benefits of urban forestry can be realised for both people and biodiversity. In this context, urban forests are crucial contributors to greener, healthier, more resilient, and liveable cities.

Urban forests as green infrastructure for health and wellbeing (photo from report)

However, we need to stimulate urban forestry approaches which promote innovationat all levels. In particular, there is a requirement to upscale initiatives; from the management of individual street trees and woodland areas to include concepts covering whole districts, or the city itself. For example, this might involve developing extensive recreational and active travel networks for walkers and cyclists, as has occurred in many European cities such as Oslo, Utrecht, Freiburg, Zagreb and Ljubljana. These link areas of extensive tree cover and other green areas (including parks, peri-urban forests, nature areas, riversides and tree-lined streets) to provide attractive connections between residential areas, workplaces, schools and busy city centres. Such networks, not only, help to integrate health and wellbeing into everyday activities such as commuting to work or school, but can also provide valuable corridors for the movement and migration of plants and animals, in response to climate change.

We also need to explore and strengthen the collaborations across disciplines and support the creation of knowledge, specific learning and training opportunities. Urban forestry should go hand-in-hand with entrepreneurship, thereby providing future employment and training opportunities. For example, the Sonian Forest near Brussels is home to the Sonian Wood Coop, an innovative social enterprise which is using the extensive peri-urban forest areas around the Belgian Capital to produce high value wood products and training opportunities. The Coop aims to ensure that each step in the supply chain of forest products is sustainable and can provide maximum benefits for the local economy. To this end, the Sonian Wood Coop works closely with diverse groups of professionals including architects, designers, foresters and engineers to ensure an integrated approach, which is tailored to the needs of local customers.

What specific knowledge does the publication provide:

Specifically, the Uforest report provides invaluable background and guidelines for the development of effective Urban Forestry Action Plans, in an effort to stimulate and simplify the adoption and implementation of urban forestry nature-based solutions. Selectedthemes which the document explores in more detail, include:

  • The multiple benefits that can be derived through urban forestry and the multiplier effect that can be achieved, over and above levels of initial public investment. For example, the city of Lisbon has assessed that each €1 invested in urban forestry projects, produces a return of €4,5. This includes provision of critical ecosystem services such as lowering temperatures during heatwaves, reducing storm water run-off in response to extreme rainfall events, absorbing atmospheric pollutants and contributing to the overall health and wellbeing of city residents.
  • The potential for urban forestry to involve diverse sectors and citizens to ensure effective integration into urban planning, governance and management. In many cities, local residents, schools and volunteer groups have already been actively involved in tree planting and woodland management initiatives under the coordination of municipalities and mentoring organisations. Experience in countries such as Scotland has also shown that there is further potential to engage citizens more actively in decision making processes; such as through the creation of community woodland groups which can work in partnership with local authorities, private owners and other actors and to maximise delivery of benefits at a local level.
  • Provision of practical “7 steps” guidance to assist municipalities, mentoring organisations and other stakeholders, in the development and delivery of targeted Urban Forestry Action Plans at local level. These steps include defined objectives, outcomes and timelines for all activities. Importantly, the document also emphasises the links between local urban forestry plans, regional forestry strategies and other key policy areas such as planning, health, transportation, social equity and climate change mitigation.

Even with the best intentions, however, these aspirations cannot be achieved without more effective and concerted efforts to promote urban forestry to diverse audiences; both within the corridors of power and across wider society as a whole, including also to the business community. Such campaigns should aim to make policymakers, planners, and elected officials more aware of the considerable potential that urban forestry offers to deliver cross-cutting policy objectives.

Through working collaboratively, we can all help to “Unlock the Potential of Urban Forestry”. This publication establishes a road map for doing just that.

The publication has been produced for the Uforest Project, an EU funded Erasmus+ initiative. Uforest is a Knowledge Alliance project co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Commission. The project is promoted by the ERSAF, Politecnico di Milano, Etifor, EFI, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, CREAF, Agresta, Transilvania University of Brasov, Forest Design, Trinity College Dublin, Nature Based Solutions Institute, Green City Watch.  

Link to full report:

While the full report is only in English, the Uforest partnership has produced a short version in the 3 different languages of the project: 


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