Micro-forests fight climate change and help to build communities
Updated: Jul 12
Micro-forests may be micro in scale but they are macro in the impact they have - for climate change and for the communities in which they're located.
I first heard about micro-forests through conversations with Edwina Robinson of the Climate Factory, a social enterprise that seeks to build a micro-forest in every urban hotspot in Australia.
Since then, I have worked with Edwina on two micro-forests (in Downer and Watson in the ACT), facilitating workshops with the community as they design the key elements of their future micro-forest. I'm looking forward to facilitating the Holt micro-forest workshop in August 2021, and will shortly begin a campaign to get a micro-forest started in my own suburb of Casey. It is exciting to see these micro-forests unfold in Canberra and to see the movement gain momentum as more and more people find out about the benefits of micro-forests.
What are micro-forests and how do they work?
Micro-forests are tiny urban forests, that work to mitigate urban heat islands, thus helping to fight climate change on the local level. Urban heat islands are warmer temperatures in urban areas, and they occur because buildings and hard paved surfaces absorb solar radiation during the day and release it slowly back into the environment at night. There is also less vegetation in urban areas, and vegetation offsets this effect.
A micro-forest is an area of dense vegetation that recreates an ecosystem, using a diverse range of plant types and sizes in a small space. Micro-forests are designed to mature quickly, so benefits from them are gained sooner. As the trees in the micro-forest grow, they sequester carbon, attract biodiversity and lead to a localised cooling effect.
While one micro-forest will not have a huge impact on a global scale, many micro-forests in urban centres worldwide can lead to a substantial reduction in carbon emissions, while simultaneously reducing air pollution and increasing biodiversity.
How will this benefit the ACT?
The ACT is predicted to have more hot days (over 35 degrees Celsius) in the near and far future. This trend is more exaggerated in north Canberra compared to south Canberra, but is apparent across the ACT. These increases will mainly be seen in Spring and Summer, but will also extend into Autumn.
More hot days increases the incidence of illness and death, particularly among vulnerable populations (older people, those with pre-existing medical conditions and those who have a disability). Hotter weather also impacts infrastructure durability, flora and fauna and bushfire danger.
By creating micro-forests all over Canberra, the overall impact is one of cooling - counteracting the urban heat island effect, drawing in carbon and creating little urban oases across our city.
How do micro-forests benefit the community?
The benefits of micro-forests go beyond the impact on climate change. By providing a green space in an urban area and alongside it, improved amenity, micro-forests can help to improve people's mental health, reduce health impacts of air pollution and bring the community together.
Micro-forests strengthen connections in their community as their development relies on volunteers from the beginning through to execution and ongoing care. It provides communities with the opportunity to connect with nature and with each other, to make a real and tangible difference in our world.
In the small role that I have played in helping get these micro-forests up and running it has been clear to me that micro-forests bring people together - not only as the project is developed but also in providing a space for the community to gather in an ongoing way. Each of the micro-forests developed and underway in Canberra has its own unique attributes, developed from the ground up with the community and reflecting the needs and desires of the people who are using and benefiting from the space. The Watson micro-forest even had a competition at the local school for the design of the micro-forest - and honestly, whenever our children and youth bring their ideas into the planning, fabulous things happen. We should always seek to engage with the next generation as we plan for the future!
Changing the world one micro-forest at a time
I'm really looking forward to seeing the next micro-forests unfold in Canberra, and see many more be developed across the ACT and beyond. If you would like to find out more, you can contact Edwina at The Climate Factory, or reach out to me and I'll be happy to have a chat and put you in touch.