Children's relationship with nature is key to future sustainable forest management
Currently, young people are at risk of having less and less contact with nature. This is a potential threat to the physical and psychological wellbeing of children and could also affect future forestry and environmental policy. This is according to researchers Sara Brogaard and Torsten Krause at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS), who in a recently published study have studied school schildrens relationships with the forest and how socioeconomic factors affect children’s experiences of and relationships with the forest.
Currently, there is an intense discussion in Sweden on forest management and which role forests should play in a changing climate. In these discussions it is important to listen to the younger generation and gain an understanding of how they value the forest. The decisions we take today will affect several future generations, due to the long rotation age of forests.”
Differences concerning the forest
In a study on school children aged 10 – 12 years in Sweden (403 children in total), and supplementary focus group interviews with children at two different schools, researchers looked at how children value the forest and its ecosystem services. The researchers asked questions about the societal significance of the forest and were asking the children to describe their personal relationships with the forest.
The study addresses the differences in how different children experience and feel about the forest.
- “In our focus group interviews with children from two different schools, we saw that one group had less experience of spending time in the forest. Some children were even scared of the forest, which clearly emerged when they explained that they would prefer to go the long way around the forest over taking the shorter path through the forest”, explains Sara Brogaard.
The researchers say the differences between the children’s relationships with and valuations of the forest can partly be linked to their socioeconomic backgrounds and previous experiences. This was confirmed by the teachers at one of the schools who explained that many of the children in the class came from other countries in which the forest may be seen as a dangerous place.
Even if a larger sample group would be needed to further investigate this specific aspect, the study highlights how contextual and socioeconomic factors affect how we experience and value the forest.
In general, the study demonstrates that the interviewed children have good knowledge of and respect for the significance of the forest for our health and wellbeing, but also of the value of the forest in itself. Many children talked about adventures in the forest – linked to the trees, flowers and animals that can be found there. They explained that they have the opportunity to relax, to get away from daily life and to be themselves by playing, creating, walking and climbing in the forest. The children also identified many of the services that forests provide to humans, through climate regulation, provision of materials such as wood and energy, as well as biodiversity.
Significant for the future
The researchers say that this demonstrates that children see many more values in the forest than simply the material ones, that is, what the forest provides to humans in terms of e.g climate regulation, energy, timber. The forest represents deeper and more intimate values for children such as freedom, comfort, a sense of discovery and wellbeing.
- “The study provides us with an increased understanding of children’s relationships and valuations of the forest and its ecosystems, which is of great significance for how we are to develop a sustainable forest management, which is not only based on the forest as a material resource for humans, but which recognises the forest’s broader values”, says co-author Torsten Krause.