An online dialogue with Ilaria Doimo about her lastest article “Disentangling the Diversity of Forest Care Initiatives: a novel research framework applied to the Italian context”
Ilaria Doimo is a PhD candidate in Forest Policy and Economics at the Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture and Forestry TESAF (University of Padova). Her PhD research project focuses on the topic of forests and wellbeing, asking questions such: which wellbeing services originate from contact with forest environments? How is the forest sector responding to new societal demands for wellbeing, social and cultural services? Which are the factors of success and challenges emerging from newly established forest care initiatives (FCIs) worldwide? These are some of the questions guiding her research.
On her latest peer-reviewed paper, co-authored with professors Mauro Masiero and Paola Gatto, a novel research framework for understanding Forest Care Initiatives in Italy is developed. What is it? Let’s find out more!
What is the purpose of your article?
This article is an output of my PhD’s research at the TESAF department in the LERH PhD programme co-funded by Etifor. The study looks at forest-based initiatives for wellbeing and disentangles their diversity in Europe and worldwide. At the same time, we wanted to address information gaps around these initiatives. We developed first an umbrella definition for FCIs to set the scope and boundaries of the research, and then a clear and operative categorization of such initiatives.
Further, we created a repository and analysed 232 FCI initiatives in Italy, a number that in itself shows the lively panorama of Italian FCIs. Such initiatives appear to be mainly led by private and civil society, and an opportunity to create business opportunities in rural and marginal areas and to deliver inclusive and wellbeing services to a wide target user group. However, due to the novelty of this area of investigation and a general lack of information, further research is still needed.
What do you mean with Forest Care Initiatives ?
In this research we developed the umbrella definition of Forest Care Initiatives, to refer to all organized initiatives – both for profit and not-for-profit – that rely (passively or actively) on contact with a forest’s elements and atmosphere to increase the level of wellbeing of individuals and communities. The term “care” is borrowed from the Green Care literature, and thus it encompasses interventions that lead to maintaining, promoting, and providing health and social rehabilitation, beyond the simple act of caring. In this sense, we refer to “care” in its broadest sense, and integrated with the definition of wellbeing provided by the World Health Organization. FCIs comprise aspects of healthcare, social inclusion and rehabilitation, health prevention with clinical assistance to broaden wellness and relaxation, education ranging from pedagogy to opportunities for disaffected people, spiritual and inspirational values, employment, and livelihood.
These initiatives are novel when compared to traditional recreational and tourism activities connected to the forestry sector. They address specific target users in a new way (i.e., people with special needs), propose new services or new services for the sector, create novel partnerships and involve stakeholders from the health and social sectors, and use the forest environment e.g., to treat specific diseases, support behavioural changes, inspire, or help relax.
Which are the reasearch results?
Through extensive data collection we were able to create a first inventory of FCIs in Italy. We have deepened our knowledge on FCIs, identified the typologies of initiatives that are emerging and characterized them for their contributions to wellbeing, users and connections to the forest ecosystem. This analysis shows that over the last few decades, different FCIs have been growing and spreading in Italy, and the private sector has been a very active provider. The analysis also helps us to visually show how our forests are delivering a wealth of wellbeing and socially inclusive services to a wide target of users, including to people with special needs to enjoy nature and its benefits. Further, FCIs seem to represent opportunities for new business development in rural and marginal areas – supporting rural development and green jobs in the forest sector.
In your opinion, what could be the role of Forest Care Initiatives in the future?
These various and innovative initiatives represent a response to an increasing social demand for connection and meaningful experiences in forests. FCIs offer an alternative solution to the health care challenges connected to the increasing incidence of non-communicable diseases, and are effective in preventing stress and promoting healthy lifestyles.
Experiences and studies internationally, from Japan and Scotland for example, indicate that forest-based therapies might also be effective in reducing public health care budgets, providing precious alternatives and integrating traditional treatments for diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer, where so little can be done. I also hope that by supporting the development of FCIs, the role of forests and trees for our health will me more easily recognised. This will lead to more accessible forest areas, not just in rural areas but also in our cities, and to increasing air and water quality and a higher standard of living. In light of the recent need for accessible and healthy natural areas to both prevent and cope with the spread of pandemics such as COVID-19, FCIs seems to gain increasing relevance.
Finally, in efforts to enhance the bioeconomy, emerging FCIs might also represent an opportunity for valuing forest multifunctionality and creating new spaces for sustainable rural development through collaboration across sectors. For example, FCIs for wellness and wellbeing might help supporting the re-design of mountain tourism to more sustainable activities in winter destinations strongly hit by climate changes. Nevertheless, more research is needed to successfully exploit these opportunities, knowledge about these initiatives and the role of the forest ecosystem in delivering wellbeing benefits.