Forests and Human Health – a challenge for FP / ESD
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Forests and Human Health – a challenge for FP / ESD

Germany, 14th September 2018
Author: Dirk Schmechel, Bavarian State Institute of Forestry (LWF), Germany

I n Bavaria the FOREST WEEK 2018 was launched under the topic “Doktor Wald” and a collection of Forestpedagogy - best – practice activities was published. All over the country a lot of events referring to the motto were launched.

Why is Forests and health so interesting? With Topics like sports, recreation or health (human health, healthy way of living) are directly addressing many people´s personal needs, wishes, expectations, questions or sorrows. The topic Forests and human health is very well suitable to show correlations between these personal demands and the functions and services that sustainable forest management (SFM) offers society. To communicate about this complex context, Forest pedagogy can provide a lot of offers and stimulations simplifying or illustrating facts and knowledge concerning positive impacts of forests on human health.

So “Doctor Forest” has also a high relevance for the dialogue of the forest sector with society: Looking at more and more different opinions, interests and expectations on forests and how they should be managed, the forest sector should focus more intensively on those benefits of forests which are not mainly concerning the support with renewable resources. Beneath the recreational and protection services of forests actually the impacts of forests on human health are getting worldwide more and more important – in the public perception as well as in dialogue with society. In his opening speech at the 125th IUFRO anniversary Congress in Freiburg 2017 Göran Persson the former Prime Minister of Sweden underlined that “…we need to find compelling narratives about how to use our forests!” The impacts of forests on human health and the management-measures foresters are serving to guarantee these benefits are – of course – such a compelling narrative! “Doctor forest” is able to show the forester as an authentic and competent helper of forests. Therefore the personal contact within Forest pedagogy activities is the most impressing and convincing method.

A lot of existing Forest pedagogy activities (games, demonstrations, field-research-activities and other Forest pedagogy practices) are suitable to show the importance of forests for human health. But of course it is necessary, that the forest pedagogue is able to explain this context. So the activities should be moderated or adapted to the Forests and human health topic. Following some examples for these adaptions are outlined, structured into the 6 affected areas:

    The aspect of „motion“ has an enormous impact on our health. A lot of diseases are caused by a lack of physical activity. More and more medical-therapy-offers from hospital or fitness-studios are carried out in forests. So Forest pedagogy activities motivating the people to move, run or catch each other also can contribute to this means."
    Forests offer us plenty of healthy food, such as honey, venison, mushrooms, herbs and a lot more. These goods are not only healthy, it is fun to search or collect them and an adventure to cook – if possible on an open fire - your own forest-diner with ingredients from the forest. Many Forest pedagogy activities describe how – for example – making “stick-bread”, “forest-mushroom-soup” or “forest-herb-salt-butter” for the self-baked bread. But also a lot of medicine-products with healing-characteristics have their origin in the forest. Forest pedagogy activities, like making your own arnica-salve or ethereal-pine-needle-oil are able to illustrate these impacts of forests on human health.
    Forest pedagogy is much more than just learning about forests. A lot of FP-activities are learning with all senses and focusing on hearing, smelling, tasting or feeling. Often this has to do with changing the perspective of viewing or perception. People can reduce stress and recover by learning with all senses.
    Some Forest pedagogy activities are silent, meditative or just relaxing. They can be combined with reading or hearing poems or fables about forests, listening to a fairy-tale-teller or other meditative text. This may help people to distress and forget about sorrows or troubles.
    Body, Soul and Psyche belongs together – so being in creative action, for example doing „land art“, drawing and designing with material from nature and forests can intensify especially the mental and psychological wellbeing and so have positive effects on human health.

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