Forests and Human Health June-18-2013

Restorative Forest Trails in four European countries

Eira-Maija Savonen, M. Sc.
The Finnish Forest Research Institute
Kalevi Korpela, Professor
University of Tampere

Seven Leader action groups in four EU-countries: Finland, France, Luxembourg and Sweden have established a common project “Network of densely-wooded regions in Europe”. The 2-year long project is primarily funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and it is divided into two subprojects: 1) a forest seminar – aiming to learn from each other’s best practices in forestry and forest related entrepreneurship and 2) a forest trail – the main aim being the establishment of restoration enhancing forest trails in each partner country to make people aware of the beneficial effects of green spaces on human well-being.

To our knowledge, the world’s first forest trail with psychological signposts enhancing restoration (stress-alleviation) was opened in Finland (near Ikaalinen Spa) in 2010. It was assumed that simple exercises in relaxing and observing the features of the natural surroundings can further strengthen the positive effects of nature. Although many studies have shown that the natural environment reduces stress, improves mood, concentration and performance, this knowledge had not earlier been brought into practice in forest trails. For this purpose, the University of Tampere and the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) co-operated in creating the first forest trails with psychological signposts. Instructions on the signposts aim to e.g. induce relaxation, improve mood, induce cognitive reflection and attention restoration and enhance the search for a favorite place which can be socially shared.

According to the user survey carried out in 2010, 79% of the visitors (N=167) reported that their mood was more positive after walking the trail than before walking. Over two-thirds (69%) reported that after the walk they were calmer, more alert and energetic, and more away from everyday worries than before the walk. Almost all (90%) were willing to recommend the trail to friends and acquaintances, especially to recover from stress and to enhance mood after a stressful day/week at work or on vacation. It can be concluded that exercises intended to enhance mood, relaxation and restoration were successful for the majority of the respondents.

Minister Françoise Hetto-Gaasch from the Ministry of Tourism and Minister Romain Schneider from the Ministry of Agriculture, Viticulture and Rural Development sawing a log to open the Luxemburg Wellbeing Trail.

Corresponding forest trails with the same psychological exercises are under construction in four EU partner countries. The first of the four “Wellbeing Trails” was opened to the public in Sweden in Sunne in September 2012, and the second one in Luxemburg in Nommern in April 2013. The Finnish trail in Parkano will be opened in June and the French trail in Brouvelieurs in September 2013. All trails use existing networks of trails in ordinary, managed forests with easy access for visitors. In Sweden, the trail is in close connection to a spa nearby the town of Sunne and in Finland in connection to a leisure center. Also the first private “Wellbeing Trail” for the use of guests in a rental farmhouse has been established in Finland.

 

Wellbeing trail in Luxemburg winds in a beech forest.

 

Wellbeing trail in Sweden in a spruce forest mixed with birches and rowans.

After introducing the trails to the public, a survey study (questionnaires available at the beginning of the trail) in the partaking countries will be conducted in order to study the visitors’ restorative experiences and the possible differences in the outcomes in countries with different population densities and degrees of urbanization.

http://www.favoriteplace.info/Korpela_Kalevi.htm

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