Rik de Vreese fell in love with forestry 20 years ago. A PhD in Human Ecology, a degree in Applied Biological Sciences and specialized in forest management, this peri-urban boy who planted his own tree at 8 years old often passes by that forest with a kind of pride, and has recently experienced in a very deep way the importance of even small forests near cities.
Doctor De Vreese will be addressing a market outlook on greencare tourism in the IV International Congress and yes, he has been a participant in many Forest Bathing walks: “Even being a forester I am not going to the forests enough, so this is helping me every time to connect to the forest and really appreciate it in a personal way”.
“I did several Forest Bathing walks; even being a forester I am not going to the forests enough. So Forest Bathing is helping me every time to connect to the forest and really perceive the forest and appreciate the forest setting.
“When I started my career I was working in an NGO and lobbying for more urban forests around the city of Ghent (Belgium), where I am living, and by a coincidence I fell in love with somebody living close to the areas we suggested to a forest back then. Now we are living in one of these areas where we have been proposing 20 years ago”.
The road to enhancing urban forests
“I started to develop this urban forest 20 years ago. It has been a very long process with discussions, talking and meetings with landowners, people from the local community, the municipalities, but now more than 20 years later this project is a reality. Literally 400 meters from where I live, there is a small forest in size developed as a result of the process initiated in the beginning of the century. When we had the lockdown I really started to appreciate this woodland differently: as a forester I thought it was small but we really appreciated having this opportunity to take our little children there. Even for me that was opening about the importance that forests have.
“I have been researching this, and lobbying for this, and talking about this but maybe this was the first real experience about the importance of forests so close to your home. And the importance that small forests can have. Part of the forest is still very young but you can hide between the trees. In 8 years, which is not much in the life of a person, the forest grows so much.
“I was living as a boy in a village that didn’t have a lot of forests and I think one of the influencing events during my young life was when I was 8 years old. Going to school there was a campaign in all Flanders to invite schools to plant trees, quite successful. That was the first time I was really planting my own tree and I still pass by this forest now. When I decided to go to university, I was already a teenager interested in environmental issues and I was aware, that’s why I decided to study Applied Sciences”.
The economic value of forests for wellbeing
“(At the IV International Congress Forests and its Potential for Health) I will be speaking about the market outlook that we have been doing on the topic of greencare tourism, including our approach on health aspects related to tourism, for instance spas in nature or rural areas, offering Forest Bathing at tourist sites, health walks, etcetera. And also social agriculture, urban green spaces and forest-based therapies.
“I studied Biological Sciences in the University of Ghent in Belgium and I have a specialization degree in Forest Management, but rather quickly I started reading aspects of recreation, forest policy and developing new forests”.
“In my region in Belgium there are not many forests, just 10%, and in Ghent is even lower, so I’ve been working a lot developing new forests. I worked with several NGOs and later I did my PhD in Human Ecology in the University of Brussels (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), and I am also involved in a Green4Care ERASMUS+ Project.
“Since 2018 I am working with the European Forest Institute, where I’ve been developing the programme in Urban Forestry and I’m leading the Horizon 2020’s CLEARING HOUSE Project which is looking at how forests contribute to solve all kinds of societal changes in and around cities. We are working with urban forests and urban trees, providing nature-based solutions.
“I was at first more interested in land management, but forestry is very multifunctional. There was one forest manager whose story was really touching. It is a forest near Leuven, and this is one of the biggest forests in Flanders. He was so engaged with the people around the forests, to provide people opportunities to engage with the forest and experience it. He also saw the importance of children engaging with the forest, this was quite influential in my own career. And this was 25 years ago. He approached the social aspects of the forest.
“This topic is very important. I have been giving some presentations to private forest owners about the importance of forest for health and wellbeing, and when you approach it from an economic perspective in urbanized regions, the economic value of forest for wellbeing is much higher that the wood value. So what I say to forest owners is ‘the time has passed that you are wood producers: you are producing health for people’. We should approach the forests in this way”.
Ph: Courtesy Rik De Vreese