16 October 2020
This is a story of a group of young people from Bolzano who organised the first participatory forest planting in South Tyrol.
In October 2018, a strong disturbance hit the Alps. It has been later called “Vaia storm“. Alpine areas including South Tyrol experienced wind gusts of up to 200 km/h, which caused very serious environmental damage and razed entire forest areas to the ground. In the Province of Bolzano, 5918 hectares of forest were completely destroyed, which is about twice the amount of wood that should be harvested annually to ensure sustainable forest management .
Seeing these beautiful areas destroyed by storm called ‘Vaia’, we asked ourselves and some friends how we could help Mother Nature to recover as quickly as possible. At the same time we wanted to highlight the importance of the forest ecosystem and alert everyone to the dangers of global warming and its devastating effects.
Moving from the simple idea of doing something to an actual project took months, full of stimuli and challenges. First of all, the Forestry Corps was contacted and, having taken an interest in the issue from the outset, provided the first operational and background information. The Corps pointed out, for example, that only a fraction of the damaged slopes are reforested: these are those subject to hydro-geological risk or close to infrastructures such as houses and ski slopes. On the other hand, for the other slopes, we rely on mother nature, which – also thanks to a favorable pollination period in 2019 – has already managed to give birth to many new saplings without altering the forest’s DNA.
Despite the operational practices used by the Corps, an area in Obereggen was jointly identified where spruce, larch and rowan trees from the provincial nursery can be planted. These will speed up the reconstitution of the forest and stabilize the slope.
Fig. 1: small spruces transplanted in Obereggen.
“We didn’t want to plant trees just among friends. We wanted to share this active citizenship experience with as many people as possible and educate the population about the importance of the forest ecosystem” explains Greta, one of the organizers.
For this reason, the group decided to organize South Tyrol’s first woodland planting open to everyone under the name“South Tyrol Plants”. Thanks to the group’s various skills, it was possible to set up a website to register for the initiative and various social media profiles to promote the project and publish short ‘information pills’ on the function of the forest. At the same time, the long-awaited planting day was organized in detail.
Fig. 2: the organisational team of “South Tyrol Plants” and the Forestry Department of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano.
“The response from the people was extraordinary, beyond all expectations. Because of Covid-19 we could only accept 70 people, but we received 200 applications!” rejoices Anna, PhD student in forestry science and member of the organising team.
And indeed, on 5 September 2020, the long-awaited day was a real success. The smiling faces of the young people and families testified to their happiness at being able to give real help to the forest ecosystem. The happiness of having participated in this unique day, knowing that they had left a tangible mark for future generations.
Fig. 3: the 70 participants at the planting day in Obereggen.
Fig. 4: planting days are tangible actions that help the forest ecosystem and leave a mark on the ecological spirit and heart of the organizers and participants.
“In addition to the plentiful participation in the event, we had a real media boom, with press, radio and TV interviews, even with national TV! We are really pleased with the interest shown and that we managed to convey the importance of the role of the forest to so many people” explains Ariane, who has already participated in several other plantings.
This project has left its mark not only on the hearts of the eight young organizers but also on the many participants, some of whom have come from outside the province. For this reason, a second participatory planting is already being planned for the spring. But in the meantime, let the first snowflakes fall on the leaves and needles of the 500 saplings that have just found a new home.
Fig. 5: in Obereggen 500 saplings have found a new home to spend this winter season and the next decades.
Source of photos and photo-cover: the South Tyrol Plants organisation team (Matthias, Ariane, Greta, Tommaso, Anna, Johannes, Giulia and Felix). Obereggen, 5 September 2020.
For more information about South Tyrol Plants go to www.southtyrolplants.org