Engagement means listening first: SUPERB’s Po Valley Demo

Effective stakeholder engagement is key to long-term forest restoration success. Being aware of that, SUPERB’s  Po Valley Demo team, after considering the internal skillset (mainly academic and technical), chose to seek support on this task from experts in this field. 

After a selection process in the private sector for a consulting association, the Po Valley Demo team joined forces with NGO Demetra Onlus, a social promotion and international solidarity organisation working on social engagement in different fields, including counseling on stakeholder inclusion in environmental projects, environmental education in schools, and children playground design for outdoor parks. 

As part of a recent stakeholder engagement workshop that took place in September 2023, at Parco Nord HQ in Milan, Demetra presented a 2-year long stakeholder engagement strategy as a three-fold approach with different focuses: 

  • First, raising school children’s perception and interaction with the area in concert with the growth of the plantation: environmental talks in local primary schools with visits to the plantation areas, with the idea that the plantation itself will grow together with that particular generation of citizens. First sessions with the students in Legnano (the first SUPERB planting site in the Po Valley area) were successfully carried out. And many teachers at the school asked to repeat the sessions in other classrooms! 
  • Second, a screening of NGOs, civil society actors, public institutions, dog lovers’ associations, bike riding groups, among other common actors that could actively use the area and include them in the strategy development and implementation by making their needs and preferences known to the Po Valley Demo team. 
  • Third, a scouting of the local businesses possibly interested in co-financing the plantation maintenance after the SUPERB project ends in 2025. At that point, synergies between private partners and public municipality could be a win-win situation for both, allowing for a reduction of the public maintenance costs for the municipality and a green marketing possibility for the private sector. 

Demetra, the SUPERB Po Valley team and the local stakeholders are now looking forward to seeing the trees, the environmental knowledge and the engagement grow. Some of this excitement is reflected in the outcomes of activities involving local stakeholders in previous meetings, including families, elderly groups, and sport-related associations, answering the question: How do we involve citizens in the new forest? 

Updates from our demo Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

During a trip to Scotland in September, our colleagues from Wageningen Research made a field visit to the restoration sites in Queen Elizabeth Forest Park (QEFP) guided by demo leader Bruce Nicoll. Within the Scottish demo, one of the measures is to transform monocultures of Sitka spruce to continuous cover forestry (CCF), besides diversifying forest’s age structure and species composition. The second restoration activity will be along the river, restoring the riparian woodlands and implementing Natural Flood Management techniques (e.g., leaky dams, timber bunds) aimed at reducing flood peaks. The third restoration activity is high elevation planting. The field visit was a great way of getting to know the Scottish situation. The next day the group was welcomed at the office of Forest Research, where they also met Tom Locatelli. During the day they discussed the SUPERB activities ahead and among them was the workplan which is now finalized.  

Sitka spruce

At the beginning of November, the Scottish demo held its stakeholder workshop. Planned restoration activities were discussed in the field during an extended visit to representative sites within QEFP. The workshop was a very enjoyable experience for the Forest Research (FR) and Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) SUPERB teams, as well as for the participants, who asked very many questions and engaged in discussions about SUPERB, QEFP, and upscaling forest restoration in Scotland and the UK. Given the dense content and structure of the workshop, and the multiple requirements from various WPs, the changes to allow extended forest visits introduced some logistic challenges that required careful planning and timing of the numerous workshop activities. Thanks to the positive and engaging spirit of QEFP’s stakeholders, all the project requirements for the workshop were achieved very satisfactorily. The FR and FLS team are looking forward to welcoming their participants back to QEFP for a full-day visit to forest restoration sites in QEFP during the summer of 2023, and to expanding their stakeholder network and activities during 2023.