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Tiny Forests – super tiny and super strong

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Logo: TinyForest

Beth Pudifoot & Victor Beumer

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

Accelerating urbanisation in a changing climate

Tiny Forest concept. Photo credit: IVN
Tiny Forest concept. Photo credit: IVN

Urbanisation is on an upward and exponential trajectory; by 2050 it is estimated that over two-thirds of the world population will live in urban areas1. Whilst cities are often places of innovation, economic development and education, they are also particularly prone to the adverse effects of climate change. Extreme weather events occur more frequently and are intensified. In cities this causes the urban heat island effect (UHI)2, promoting uncomfortable and, for some groups of people, unhealthy temperatures while impermeable surfaces catalyse the impacts of flooding and coastal storm surges. Meanwhile a high density of industry and transport contributes to often unsafe levels of air and water pollution. These are not the features of a sustainable, resilient, thriving city.

In order to tackle these challenges, we must fundamentally improve the relationship between cities and nature. By integrating solutions that are inspired and supported by nature3 into the fabric of urban areas, we can help to climate-proof our cities. Nature-based solutions (NbS) are multifunctional, providing numerous services and benefits such as temperature regulation, water storage, improving air and water quality, offering aesthetic value, attracting diverse wildlife, facilitating education and raising awareness.

Of particular pertinence in recent months is the value of green urban space for human health and wellbeing. In the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, billions of people have had to stay at home4. Weeks of confinement have highlighted the privilege that it is to be able to walk freely in the park, to enjoy the greenness and fresh air.

An innovative approach to nature-based solutions: Tiny Forest

Typically, NbS involve green or blue infrastructure in the form of urban parks, green roofs and walls, rain gardens, wetlands and bioswales or vegetated riverbanks, lakes and ponds. However, an innovative, emerging NbS is Tiny Forests, a novel concept taking root across the world. They fit into a space the size of a tennis court. That means they bring all of the benefits of a forest; climate cooling, lower flood risks, biodiversity, improved air quality and mental wellbeing, but in a smaller package. Helping to tackle the climate crisis in cities, one tiny forest at a time.

A refining of methods from around the world

Planting day at Witney Tiny Forest, the UK’s first Tiny Forest. Photo credit: Witney Town Council Beth Pudifoot
Planting day at Witney Tiny Forest, the UK’s first Tiny Forest. Photo credit: Witney Town Council Beth Pudifoot

Born from a desire to reverse the effects of human-driven ecological devastation, Professor Miyawaki developed a method to restore natural, multi-strata forest ecosystems in Japan, on which the theory of Tiny Forests is based. By utilising the concept of potential natural vegetation (PNV)5 concurrently with field investigations of remaining tracts of the ancient forests of Chinju-no-mori6, the Miyawaki method restores ecologically sound, indigenous forests7.

Subsequently Shubhendu Sharma, a former engineer, further developed the Miyawaki method, so that it was replicable and applicable in almost any environment. Inspired by the native forest planted by Miyawaki at the factory in India where he previously worked, Sharma founded the company Afforestt8 and a movement of planting small, fast-growing native forests.

Before reaching the UK, our Dutch partners, IVN9, incorporated the engagement of schoolchildren resulting in the concept of Tiny Forest: an urban, fast-growing, native forest with an educational programme. They have firmly established the Tiny Forests movement in the Netherlands. In a heavily urbanised country, IVN promoted the value of Tiny Forests in making nature accessible to all and encouraging them as a place for community and learning.

Tychwood: the UK’s first Tiny Forest

Witney Tiny Forest, two and a half months after planting. Photo credit: Beth Pudifoot
Witney Tiny Forest, two and a half months after planting. Photo credit: Beth Pudifoot

On the 14th March 2020, Earthwatch Europe planted the UK’s first Tiny Forest, aptly named “Tychwood”, with Witney Town Council, and IVN. The 600 trees planted were made up of 12 native species, selected for their compatibility with the local soil conditions, and mimicking the natural species communities found in the UK’s remaining patches of semi-natural ancient forest.

Essential soil preparation enables the dense planting and fast growth that characterises a Tiny Forest. By loosening soil to a metre’s depth and incorporating organic materials to improve the soil’s water holding capacity and nutrient content, rapid growth ensues. As the trees compete for available light, they can reach up to 5m in just 3 years and, by doing so, quickly start to secure carbon, provide homes for wildlife and a tranquil environment for communities.

From the outset, we plan and design Tiny Forests in collaboration with local stakeholders and the community - encouraging engagement and ownership. Planting day is a highlight, with 600 saplings to plant and 600kg of straw to lay as a protective mulch layer on top of the soil; many hands make for light work!

We are currently working hard on the preparations for the next planting season. If you’re interested in hosting or funding your own Tiny Forest, you can find more information on our website.

Meanwhile in Oxfordshire, at almost two and a half months old, Tychwood is flourishing. A recent visit recorded signs of vigorous growth, with some trees already almost a metre tall and new leaf buds opening into bright green parasols throughout the forest. In a time of human crisis, this persistence serves as a welcome reminder of nature’s quiet resolve.

logo: Earthwatch Europe

References

  1. https://population.un.org/wup/Publications/Files/WUP2018-Highlights.pdf
  2. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26174417?seq=1
  3. https://www.think-nature.eu/about/
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/24/nearly-20-of-global-population-under-coronavirus-lockdown
  5. Loidi J., del Arco. M., Pérez de Paz, P.L., Asensi. A., Díez Garretas B., Costa, M., Díaz González, T., Fernández‐González, F., Izco, J., Penas, A., Rivas‐Martínez, S and Sánchez‐Mata, D. 2010. Understanding properly the ‘potential natural vegetation’ concept. Journal of Biogeography. 37(11). 
  6. https://www.aeon.info/ef/midoripress/japanese/20120614__chinju-no-mori_have_you_ever_traveled_in_japan.html
  7. Miyawaki, A. 1999. Creative Ecology: Restoration of Native Forests by Native Trees. Plant Biotechnology. 16(1), pp.15-25
  8. https://www.afforestt.com/
  9. https://www.ivn.nl/over-ivn

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