Anne Rabes & Jan Schmidt

Healing Forests: standards for a therapeutic concept of nature

Dr. Anne Rabes and Jan Schmidt are both Project Managers at the “International Certification Office Healing Forest”, which is operated by BioCon Valley® GmbH. 

BioCon Valley® is the network of the health economy and life science in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, and co organizer of the IV International Congress “Forests and its Potential for Health” in Luso/Portugal. Anne and Jan will present the standards and processes for the certification of Healing Forests. 

Healing forests are forest areas that are designed for therapeutic use for specific medical indications. From rehab to physiotherapy, mindfulness and awareness walks, the Healing Forest standards work towards a therapeutic concept for nature. The professionals highlight that it is necessary to think of forests as spaces to be maintained and preserved.

Anne is a Biotechnologist with a PhD in Infectious Diseases living near the Baltic Sea who rides a camper van with her family whenever she can, and Jan is a Sociologist specialized in standardization processes with a special love for collecting mushrooms in the woods. They carry on the exceptional work of certifying green spaces for human health.

Healing Forests Certification

Jan: “The International Congress series ‘Forest and its Potential for Health’ was born in 2017 here in Heringsdorf, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. After a 2-year break due to corona, we are now very happy to be co-organisers of the IV International Congress in the beautiful Luso. Together with FTHub and iNature Portugal, we have put together a great and exciting programme. We are very much looking forward to meeting the various experts from the field of public health, medicine and therapy, as well as decision makers from politics and health tourism industry.

Anne: “During the Congress we will present our work at the International Certification Office Healing Forest and explain how to set up common standards and processes to assess forests. We will present the certification process and how we evaluate whether a forest fulfills the criteria to be developed as Healing Forests. 

“Our standards were developed in cooperation with various experts from our federal state Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Many of them will also present their work at the congress. We are very grateful and proud that our federal government supports the topic of healing forests and forest therapy. Our project is financed by the regional Ministry of economy of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern”.

Jan: “A certified healing forest is different from a normal forest. The most important difference is that the Healing Forest offers a therapeutic concept and a trained therapist on site. Of course you can use the Healing Forest also on your own, however, to make the most of the forest’s health potential, guidance by professionally trained experts is recommended. This is also inline with the concept and work of FTHub.

The importance of silence and maintenance 

“It is important also that you have an area that is calm, there should be no big streets, no noise around. The size, no noise, attractive trees -not only one type-. Of course every forest can be different but they should have some certain standards that make the therapy really work out”.

Jan: “I remember in october we went to Austria to have a look at a forest, they were interested in the certification. This forest belongs to a monastery, the Benedictine Monastery Göttweig, it was very nice really. The forester there said that everybody who came there said ‘what a lovely forest’, and he would always answer people that yes, ‘but this forest is so beautiful because we are maintaining it for 900 years’. For 900 years it belonged to the monastery and since then they have been working in the forest. Constantly maintained. 

“This shows very nicely that you need to take care. It is not just ‘leave the forest alone’, but it’s quite important you take care of the forest. This is something we can achieve: bring back the idea that the forest is there in front of our door and we take benefit from it, but we also need to take care”.

The wonderful career journey of these nature lovers

J: “ I am a sociologist. I started in a company where we had projects to set up a certification system for broad bands management. So it is an experience that I can use for the projects, certification and standardization, process management issues. So from this perspective I think it is very interesting to monetize, standardize, put nature in some category to see what can be the benefit for you and your health. We also have a background in public administration which is a benefit as we have to consider a lot of rules related to project management and administration.

“I feel very connected to nature, I’m very much into mushrooms. I don’t eat them that much, this is weird but I will manage to eat them some day. Here we live in a rather rural area, so I go to nature almost every day with the kids”.

A: “I studied Biotechnology and did my PhD in Immunology and Infectious diseases. Afterwards I worked at the university hospital already involved in project management and research. I decided to join this project as I have felt connected to nature since I was a child. My parents had a boat and most of the time we were outside sailing. Now we have a camper van and we travel with my children. I like being in the forest but also on the beach”.

Forest Therapy for Healing Forests

J: “Forest Therapy is a therapeutic application mostly in the field of physiotherapy, and then here it really makes a difference if you do it indoors or outdoors, on the grass or moss. It’s good for the spine and bones. You also have another approach with mindfulness and awareness,  depending on what the guides are offering.  We still need more studies to point in this direction and we know  it’s different if you go on your own that if you go with a guide”. 

A: “You can use the same forest for multiple aims or different indications as long as it is in line with the predefined standards. There is also the rehab use, so you have therapists for different groups. Regarding a Healing Forest, you ask what you want, and it is provided the guide you need. I think it is important to have more studies for this, to connect people and do this networking, as  the big flagships are also now looking for forest therapy and the community is moving forward in this direction.

 

Ph: Courtesy Anne Rabes & Jan Schmitd

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