“We need nature in our lives!”: this is what the European Commission stated in 2020 its EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, “to improve our psycho-physical health and that of the Planet”(European Commission, 2020).
It is nowadays widely accepted that being in the open air in a green space has a positive effect on our health, both physical and mental. Many studies affirm that our body and mind benefit from contact with the natural elements. In Italy, forests and parks offer many opportunities to stay in contact with nature, alone or in company.
Let us look at some of them.
The experiences of Forest Kindergartens in Italy are relatively recent but expanding, even more so after the recent Covid 19 pandemic. It is recognized that the Forest Kindergarten was first born in Denmark (known as Skovboernehaver) to become then very popular in Northern Europe and now it is spreading to Italy too (where is called Asilo in Bosco). This experience offers children educational activities in the open air. In Italy, there is currently an increasing number of primary and secondary schools interested in “outdoor learning” or “outdoor education” that have decided to carry out at least a part of their activities in the nature, outside the traditional classroom. Actually, the common use of the term Forest Kindergartens often refers more to a pedagogical idea of education for free play in nature than to a reference to the ecosystem in which the activities should take place. This explains why it is possible to find initiatives called Forest Kindergartens that do not actually carry out their activities in a forest but, for example, in an agricultural context (even if sometimes there are specifications, such as “Agri-kindergarten).
At national level there are no specific regulations governing this type of experiential outdoor education. It is therefore easy to imagine that the lack of legislation encourages the heterogeneity of types of Forest Kindergartens in Italy. However, in application of the national Legislative Decree 65/2017, which targets 0-6 year old educational services, some Regions have adopted laws regulating these initiatives. This is the case of the Lazio and Veneto Regions, for example.
In Italy, there isn’t any official national lists of Forest Kindergartens, although there are initiatives aimed at mapping these experiences on the national territory (for example, the one promoted by the project “The kindergarten in the forest“). The lack of a unique and shared definition makes it even more difficult to draw up official lists, since it is easier to simply group in a general category all the different educational experiences carried out in nature.
The majority of Forest Kindergartens in Italy are self-organised initiatives wanted and conceived by parents and educators, organised as associations and private schools, but there are also projects recognised by the Italian Ministry of National Education, such as experimental projects in public schools and family nurseries. The use of the forest also varies greatly from project to project. For some, it is the only space dedicated to educational activities where children and educators rely on independent structures such as tents, yurts or wooden prefabs (see “la Yurta nel Bosco” in Arona, Piedmont). In other cases, Kindergartens rely on structures such as public schools, agritourisms or farms (also with animals), gardens, environmental educational centres, rivers beaches and other natural environments that complement the forest or sometimes even replace it.
In most cases, the forest is not used exclusively for Kindergarten activities. Excursions, workshops, environmental didactics, agricultural activities or activities to get closer to animals are just a few examples of the initiatives that take place in conjunction with those of the Forest Kindergartens. Recently, places designed for adults’ training are also springing up, such as the Wood Farm in Veneto region (Fattoria del Legno) which was conceived as an educational place mainly for adults, but where educational courses and activities are also offered for children and families. Activities for adults relating to forest life and forest management are taught through direct experience. After the recent Covid 19 pandemic and the increase in smart working possibilities, the Wood Farm proposes itself as the right place to choose for those who want a quiet, green space to work from via the web.
An adventure park is a place which can contain a wide variety of elements such as rope climbing exercises, obstacle courses, bouldering, rock climbing, target oriented activities, and zip-lines.
Adventure parks are currently a consolidated reality in our country. They play a tourist-recreational role that attracts a wide range of users. They represent an opportunity for family fun and entertainment and a chance to socialise and team build for groups of friends or work colleagues. They can be seen also as an opportunity to train children’s motor skills and balance, and to test adults’ psycho-physical abilities. Adventure parks in Italy are usually equipped green areas where visitors can tackle different climbing exercises or obstacles. Forests are the privileged theatres of these initiatives, where routes wind their way through trees that can act as supports, obstacles to be overcome or climbed, in complete safety conditions.
There is no official data, but from researches involving three networks of initiatives (Italiaparchi, Parchi Avventura Italiani and Parchi on line), we can count about 192 adventure parks in Italy, with a fairly balanced distribution by region. Lombardy and Trentino-Alto Adige, with 22 parks, Tuscany with 17 and Sicily with 14 are the regions with the greatest presence of these sites.
Land Art in Parks and Forests
The link between art and nature has ancient origins in Italy, as demonstrated by the presence of historic parks such as the Parco dei Mostri in Bomarzo or the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte. There are also private collections of works created by different artists, open to the public and managed as open-air museum initiatives (museums “en plein air”), such as the Bosco dei Poeti in the province of Verona which, in the 130 hectares of the wood, brings together the works of more than 600 international artists. Some sites, often on public property, are creating a link between art and nature both as a tourist and educational-recreational tool, such as the Riserva Naturale Integrale Bosco Nordio.
Most of the woods and natural parks that host land art works (art in nature) are concentrated in north-eastern Italy (see Arte Sella: the contemporary mountain, the most famous art museum in Italy, with 70,000 visitors per year) but they are also increasing in the rest of the Italian regions (we can mention for example Beverly Pepper’s Park in Umbria – or the Daniel Spoerri’s garden in Tuscany, just to name a few).
Forest bathing and Forest Therapy
It is increasingly common today to hear people talk about forest bathing, as an experience that allows you to feel better physically and mentally, thanks to contact with nature. The expression forest bathing is a translation of the Japanese term Shinrin-Yoku, traditionally understood as a beneficial practice that brings benefits to psycho-physical health, simply by being in nature, walking among the trees and paying attention to the stimuli offered to us in this green environment.
Numerous medical studies have been conducted in Japan and Korea to understand how this forest bathing acts on the human being, so much so that a true forest therapy has been defined, indicating structured and certified practices based on the scientifically tested effects on health of being in nature on health. We can define forest therapy as an organised activity where, thanks to the support of scientific studies, a path is planned in the forest dedicated to self-care, both physical and mental.
In Italy today, there are more and more opportunities for forest bathing, intended as relaxation and recreation activities organised in mainly wooded environments, offered as a leisure activity. On the other hand, forest therapy practices are more limited.
Tourism promotion companies throughout Italy nowadays offer forest bathing experiences among their recreational proposals (see Trentino and Alto Adige, Tuscany, Molise, Abruzzo and Piedmont or Lazio, to name but a few). We can mention, for example, the Sentiero del Respiro degli Alberi (Breath of the Trees Trail), or Parco del respiro (Breath Park) in Trentino region or Torrecchia Vecchia estate in the province of Latina, which has developed a range of activities to benefit from the positive effects of contact with forests and nature. Some proposals for destinations suitable for forest bathing are available here: https://www.wownature.eu/forest-bathing-italia/.
Some initiatives in which the forest is used for a therapeutic function supported by in situ studies and targeted management and planning are Valli del Natisone Forest Therapy Park in Udine province (that is also one of our case studies) which is first place where forest therapy was implemented in Italy and Bosco del Sorriso in the Oasi Zegna in Biella area.
A recent initiative is Terapia Forestale Stazione di Pian dei Termini in Pistoia. It is the first Forest Therapy Station in Tuscany to promote research and practice of this discipline in order to contribute to: “health promotion and prevention; the reduction of direct and indirect costs for the public health national service; the enhancement of the value of the regional forests; increase of income of the local agricultural and forestry enterprises”.
Finally, it is worth mentioning also the Kurpark in Villabassa close to Bolzano, which has infrastructures dedicated to a certified Kneipp path and an open-air saline water inhalation system, and the project born in 2012, il Parco Terapeutico at Parco del Nera, whose aim is to enhance the park through “eco-therapy” for the treatment of mental and physical discomfort.
Enjoy your immersion in the green!
- Davide Pettenella, Università degli Studi di Padova
- Ilaria Doimo, Università degli Studi di Padova ed Etifor | Valuing Nature
- Georgia Bertagna Libera, Università degli Studi di Padova
- Giulia Corradini, Università degli Studi di Padova
- This article is an English adaptation, with modifications and integrations, on the original article: Pettenella, D., Doimo I., 2017 Indicatore 7.5 “Servizi di regolazione e culturali del bosco”. Chapter of: RaFITALIA 2017-2018 Rapporto sullo stato delle foreste e del settore forestale in italia. Rete Rurale Nazionale 2014-2020. Compagnia delle Foreste S.r.l., Arezzo (Italy). Available at: https://www.reterurale.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/19231
- Legislative Decree 65/2017. Decreto Legislativo 13 aprile 2017, n. 65 Istituzione del sistema integrato di educazione e di istruzione dalla nascita sino a sei anni, a norma dell’articolo 1, commi 180 e 181, lettera e), della legge 13 luglio 2015, n. 107. (17G00073). Available at: https://www.gazzettaufficiale.it/eli/id/2017/05/16/17G00073/sg
- European Commission, 2020. Communication from the commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 Bringing nature back into our lives COM/2020/380 final. Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1590574123338&uri=CELEX:52020DC0380