Tiny Forests are Dotting Large European Cities

These small patches are bringing nature to urban residents.

Jul 21, 2021
Tiny Forests are Dotting Large European Cities | These small patches are bringing nature to urban residents.

There are patches of green taking root in European cities. It’s part of a popular movement that started in Asia to clean the air, cool down temperatures, and improve the quality of life of city residents according to DW.

This movement began in India with Indian eco-entrepreneur Shubhendu Sharma who was inspired by the tiny forests in Japan created by Akira Miyawak, a botanist who saw this as a solution to regenerate the land. In 2014, Sharma gave a Ted Talk about how valuable the mini ecosystems he was planting across India are.  He said that they grow ten times faster than conventional forests and were considerably more biodiverse.

Sharma planted them anywhere he could, near schools, factories, and houses.  “If you see a barren piece of land, remember that it can be a potential forest,” he said in the talk. Now, Europeans are following his example and tiny forests are springing up across the continent according to DW.

But first, Europeans had to adapt his methods to the very different soil conditions, species and climate, while taking into account the effects of climate change. “Species that have grown here forever are more likely to do well and be able to adapt to climate change,” Belgian biologist Nicolas de Brabandere told DW.

“So, I contacted scholars and tree nurseries to identify suitable native tree species and locally sourced materials to improve the soil,” he added. de Brabandere began planting tiny forests in 2016 and used native species like wild apple and pear, lime trees, and sessile oaks.

At around the same time, Daan Bleichrodt launched the first tiny forest initiative with IVN Nature Education in the Netherlands with guidance from Sharma, according to National Geographic. By the end of 2021, there will be 200 of these tiny forests in urban centers across the country.

Bleichrodt told National Geographic: “We basically made a mess of the world and a lot of people want to do something, but they don't know: ‘What can I do?’” Bleichrodt told National Geographic. The forests can be built in under a year. It's a very practical way to do something positive in light of climate change and loss of biodiversity.”

Each of the Dutch forests begins with a survey of the nearby vegetation and trees to find out which ones are native to the area. These typically include birch, oak, and beech trees as well as lower growing plants like guelder rose or hazel. Each tiny forest is planted with 20 to 40 trees and shrubs.

Public projects are coordinated by the IVN and schools, communities, and municipalities and are usually 200 to 250 square meters. The cost is split between the municipality and the IVN. Private landowners can also create their own smaller forests in a much tinier space.

These mini forests are seen as an asset that can help residents weather heat waves, improve water retention, remove carbon from the air, and the best benefit, according to Jeroen Schenkels, a senior advisor for the city of Utrecht on green planning, is social.

“One of the most important things is that you give people the opportunity to be involved in nature in the neighborhood,” Schenkels said.

The first tiny forest was planted in the UK in 2020 in a program run by ecologist Victor Beumer for Earthwatch. He said that the organization plans to collect data about biodiversity and carbon sequestration so that the environmental impact of the forests can be tracked long-term. There are 17 of these forests now and 21 will be planted by 2022.

While these European forests are still relatively young and the full impact of them on the environment is still unknown, one thing is a given. Bringing more nature into cities will have a positive impact on the life of urban residents. Being in nature is good for your health, and wellbeing.

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Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.