A really nice forest chat

#ForestRestorationStory by Åsa Granberg, practical coordinator in SUPERB’s Swedish demo

Last Friday, I had one of the best forest moments in a long time. It all started in the morning when I scanned through the post of the day. I have recently helped our Swiss project colleagues Moses Kazungu and Marcel Hunziker to distribute letters of invitation to a digital questionnaire about people’s perceptions on forests and forest restoration among 1500 randomly sampled citizens in my county. Since not everybody lives at the address where they are registered, I have had a couple of letters returning each day the last week. When checking these letters on Friday morning I noticed that one of them had a note written on it: “Sorry, I can only participate with pen and paper. I have sold my forest to a bird hunter. You can erase this 85-year-old lady”. I imagined the old lady, smiled, and put the letter aside. Then I picked it up again and looked at the address… And realized it was in the village next to mine. I started thinking, what if this lady actually wanted to complete the questionnaire, but was unable to do so because it was digital? After a short search I found her phone number, called and she answered almost immediately. – “Yes, I would very much like to answer your questionnaire!”. We decided that I would take an earlier bus home from work that day to drop by at her house and help her fill in the questionnaire on my computer.

In the afternoon the rain was pouring down as I got on the earlier bus. Once on the bus, I called her back to check that she still wanted to participate. Absolutely! she answered, and 30 minutes later I knocked on her door.

And it turned out to be one of the nicest conversations about forest I have ever had! Margareta, 85 years old, shared with me the story of her life and how the forest had been part of it the whole time. She told me about the forest she inherited some 30 km away, her thoughts on how to manage the forest to keep the berries, the mushrooms, and the wildlife, but also the trade-offs when it came to economic outcome from the forest. She also explained that her sister, who had inherited the neighbouring forest but had other interests, had chosen to manage her forest in a different way. Margareta also introduced me to her “everyday forests”. How she and her husband had run, walked, and biked almost everywhere in the forests surrounding where she lives. That she knows almost all paths. Finally, Margareta told me about the joy she felt when meeting the children from the day-care next door, hand in hand, happily announcing to her that they were on their way to “their” forest – a small forest patch nearby Margareta’s house, not very special for a grown-up, but an adventure for small children!

After one and a half hour, several cups of coffee and a handful of biscuits, we had managed to fill in Margareta’s answers in the questionnaire. Best spent Friday afternoon in ages!

Looking at the forest through stakeholder’s eyes – new ambassadors for SUPERB’s Danish demo

The second SUPERB workshop in the Danish demo was organized by demo lead Naturstyrelsen and focused on promoting a more resilient and diverse forest and nature. Therefore, we invited 13 key stakeholders with different interests and knowledge about the forest’s role in their local community. The workshop aimed at exploring outdoor activities in areas where the forest would become wetter in the future. 
 
The workshop was organized in three steps: a walk in nature to understand the participants’ perceptions of the landscape, the drawing of a collective map guided by photo elicitation, and a general SUPERB questionnaire. Prior to the workshop, we provided participants with background material, including maps and guiding principles, to familiarize themselves with our initiative. 

Engaged participants despite heavy rain
Engaged participants despite heavy rain

During the nature walk, we discovered that most participants did not consider the increasing water levels a problem. Instead, they were more interested in having what was described as “a more engaging nature experience”. The more organized roads and footpath where criticized for being “inorganic”, “too straight” and “too far from nature”. Participants, including horse riders, wheelchair users, orientation runners, birdwatchers, and amateur biologists, expressed their desire for more carefully planned trails that would connect with the SUPERB initiative. They wanted an interactive and tactile experience when moving through the forest. And they supported the project’s plans for increasing water levels and other interventions as long as there were physical ways for the public to engage and experience these changes. 

 
In the photo elicitation activity, stakeholders discussed and ranked pictures of different wet landscapes, which sparked a lively discussion on ethical approaches of spending time in nature and the need for guidance in the forest. Participants suggested that the pathfinding and facilities should reflect the dynamic nature of the project. Furthermore, there was a desire to keep the landscape free from large installations that could disrupt the natural beauty. 
 
Participants also emphasized the importance of rethinking the design of pathfinding in a more dynamic landscape and suggested the involvement of local ambassadors to activate the local communities and provide support for Naturstyrelsen’s initiatives. These ambassadors would serve as “forest-keepers” who could arrange meetings and share their knowledge about Naturstyrelsen’s projects, thus contributing to a larger outreach and community engagement. 

The workshop helped us to identify key challenges related to designing outdoor activities along the lines of the SUPERB initiative. What we thought would be a though discussion about how to maintain old trails in danger of being flooded became a discussion about how to create new and engaging ways of experiencing the changing forest landscape. Looking at the forest through the eyes of our stakeholders helped us understand what they perceived as the most important challenges. Finally, the workshop helped us generate ideas how to foster closer relationships with local communities and develop new “user experiences” when exploring our SUPERB area. 

Engaging with SUPERB’s Swedish demo

In the end of September 2023 the Swedish SUPERB demo colleagues Åsa Granberg and Anders Esselin contributed an excursion with the advisory board of the regional forest program. The advisory board consists of representatives of a wide range of forest stakeholders, from NGOs in nature conservation and outdoor life, private forest owners, politicians and researchers to heads of forest management in the large forest companies in the region. It was an inspiring day with a lot of interesting discussions and meetings, starting with a visit to a field trial of chess board cutting, a version of continuous cover forestry. At site, Charlotta Erefur and Ida Rönnqvist, researchers at SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) told the colleagues from the Swedish demo about the trial and encouraged to discussions. With such diverse group of stakeholders the discussions immediately started, covering things like potential benefits of the method, for example for biodiversity and recreational values, but also potential drawbacks, for example lower profitability and issues with regeneration.

The excursion ended with a visit in in the SUPERB restoration site Ume Älvdal, where municipality ecologist Marlene Olsson and SUPERB-member Åsa Granberg told the advisory board about the planned restoration activities in the area and about the SUPERB project. And despite pouring rain, the audience were really interested and gave their different views on the planned restoration actions. All in all – a really nice day!