FOREST EUROPE publication: “Doctor Forest”
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FOREST EUROPE publication: “Doctor Forest”

Author: Dirk Schmechel, Bavarian Institute of Forestry (LWF)
Publisher: FOREST EUROPE Liaison unit Bratislava

A s a side-activity within the work of the FORST EUROPE expert-group the slovakian liaison – unit managed to publish “Doctor Forest” - a collection of 10 Forest - Pedagogy – activities as practical proposals to communicate about the positive effects of forests on human health with Forestpedagogy methods. The brochure comprises 30 pages including also summarized background-knowledge, historical aspects on medicine from forests and a literature collection. The English version is an adapted and expanded version of the brochure “Doktor Wald” published by the Bavarian State Institute of Forestry (LWF) in 2017.

Forestpedagogs can choose the activities for carrying them out during a forest field trip with a group of children, teenagers or adults. The activities can be performed by all age-groups, but they have to be adapted or simplified according to the age and knowledge of participants. Therefore some need preparatory work and some offer good possibilities for alternations or amendments with follow-up activities. The publication can be downloaded on:

Why is the topic so important or Forestpedagogy?
Topics such as sports, recreation or health (human health, healthy living) are those directly addressing many peoples’ personal needs, wishes and expectations. The topic “Forests and Human Health” is suitable for communicating correlations between these personal demands and the multiple functions and services that sustainable forest management offers society. To communicate this complex subject, Forest Pedagogy can provide a number of effective messages and simplify or illustrate facts and knowledge concerning the positive impact of forests on human health.

Positive effects of forests on human health have also a high relevance for the dialogue between the forest sector and society: considering public opinions, interests and expectations of forests and how they should be managed, the forest sector should focus more intensively on those benefits of forests not mainly concerned with renewable resources. Studies show that people have strong emotional relationship with forests. Forests and timber are perceived very positively, but for many people forestry has a negative image. Forestry is sometimes seen as a threat to forests. As well as the recreational and protection function of forests, their impact on human health is getting worldwide attention, is considered to be increasingly important and is fostering a positive image of forestry.

How to communicate health topics with Forest Pedagogy methods ?
A lot of existing Forest Pedagogy activities (games, demonstrations, field and research activities, other Forest Pedagogy practices) are suitable for illustrating the importance of forests and forest ecosystem services for human health. Nevertheless, it is necessary for forest pedagogues to be able to explain these benefits. Thus the activities should be adjusted and adapted to aspects of health impacts forests are providing:

Human health and physical activity: Physical activity can have an enormous impact on health. Many diseases are caused by lack of physical exercise. More and more medical therapies offered by hospitals and physio clinics are carried out in forests.

Human health and forest functions: Some of the “forest protection functions” or “public welfare functions” are directly connected with human health. Forests provide drinking water, improve air quality in urban areas and reduce traffic noise. These functions directly relate to citizens’ needs and demands for recreation and tranquillity that they hope to experience in forests.

Human health and food & medicine: Forests offer plenty of healthy food, such as honey, venison, mushrooms, herbs and lots more. These products are not only healthy, it is also fun to search for and gather them. Using these ingredients for cooking a “Forest dinner” will be a big adventure for the participants. Many Forest Pedagogy activities encourage participants to try to prepare “stick bread,” forest mushroom soup, salted forest herb butter or self-baked bread. There are also a lot of medicinal products with healing properties that originate in forests.

Human health and sensory experience: Forest Pedagogy is much more than just learning about forests. A lot of Forest Pedagogy activities take advantage of learning through senses and focus on hearing, smell, taste and touch. This has often to do with changing perspectives or perceptions. People can reduce their level of stress and recover faster by learning with using all their senses and taking notice of their surroundings.

Human health and meditative experience: Some Forest Pedagogy activities are silent, meditative and relaxing. They can be combined with reading or listening to poems and stories about forests, listening to fairy tale tellers or meditative texts. This may help people to relax and temporarily forget about their problems.

Human health and creatively doing: Body, soul and psyche belong together – so being creative, for example by creating “land art,“ drawing and designing with materials from nature and forests can intensify mental and psychological well-being of those involved, and thus have positive effects on human health.

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