Disadvantages of “wild urban woodlands”

Having the “wild” represented in cities through forests and trees can also cause problems which need to be taken into account by forest managers. Problems with trees and woodlands in and near cities range from wildfire hazards and allergy problems to nuisances caused by falling leaves and fruits.

Studies have indicated that residents’ sense of safety can be negatively affected by reduced visibility caused by abundant vegetation and under­growth in urban green areas (e. g. Nibbering and Van Geel 1993; Burgess 1995), although Kuo (2003) provides evidence from the United States that people living in greener surroundings felt safer and better adjusted than those living next to barren areas. Other drawbacks are associated with wild animals being present in cities, even in the heart of a metropolis such as New York (Blumenthal 2003). The animals themselves can cause dam­ages, for example, to private gardens, as in the case of wild boar roaming the streets of Berlin, or by carrying diseases such as Lyme’s disease.

Perspective: developing wild urban woodlands

In spite of the drawbacks outlined above, it is generally accepted that na­ture also has its place in cities, not least of all represented by trees and woodlands. The question of what form of nature is represented—ranging from highly cultivated and controlled to “wild” meaning with limited or no human interference—is a more difficult one. The fact that urban residents’ complex perceptions of what is “wild” must be taken into account does not make the work of green-space planners and managers easier. One the other hand, the multiple social as well as ecological meanings of “wild” create opportunities for urban forestry.

In urban areas where demands and pressures are high and space for na­ture is limited, some form of management seems necessary for most parts of the urban forest. In order to accommodate social as well as ecological considerations, the concept of close-to-nature forest management has gradually become popular in urban forestry (e. g. Senatsverwaltung… 1991; Jacsman 1998; Otto 1998). Developed as early as during the 1880s by Gayer, close-to-nature forestry (naturgemafie Waldbewirtschaftung / Waldwirtschaft) aimed at combining nature conservation and landscape objectives with those of forestry and timber production (Senatsverwal­tung. 1991). Close-to-nature forestry aims to imitate nature in manage­ment and provide more room for natural processes.

Still, in order to serve multifunctional needs, choices will need to be made, as not all functions can be realised in every part of the urban forest. Through zoning, urban foresters across Europe have attempted to conserve areas – for example, in the central part of more extensive urban woodland areas – where natural values are given priority and nature is given more freedom. This does not necessarily clash with the need to place the values of local urban communities centrally. These “nature cores” or “wild wood­lands” also provide significant social benefits, for example by offering a setting for nature-oriented recreation, contemplation, and nature education. Appropriate, if only minimal, recreational facilities can help alleviate visi­tor pressure (Jacsman 1998). Starting from highly cultivated elements of the urban forest such as gardens and street trees, a “story” of increasing naturalness and “wildness” and the need to look at urban green structures as an integrated whole can be told from people’s doorsteps all the way to the heart of the urban woodlands and nature areas.

In their efforts to introduce a greater focus on natural values and proc­esses, forest managers benefit from the fact that visitors have shown them­selves more appreciative of closer-to-nature management. A comparison of visitor preference studies carried out in Sweden in 1977 and 1997 showed that photographs of natural forests with fallen-down trees and dead wood were rated significantly higher in 1997 (Lindhagen and Hornsten 2000). A survey among residents of municipalities in the northern part of the Neth­erlands showed the residents to be rather positive about the introduction of “ecological management” of municipal green space, for example, in terms of grazing, less mowing and refraining from using pesticides and fertilisers (Wolterbeek 1999). Restrictive measures enhancing natural value are often accepted by visitors, as in the case of visitors to a peri-urban woodland and recreation area near Hanover, Germany. Ninety percent of the visitors were found to accept limitations and restrictions serving nature – conservation objectives (Mehls and Krischer 1996).

Proper communication and information about the efforts to enhance natural values seem crucial for further enhancing public understanding and awareness. Photos of a “natural forest” shown to Danish forest visitors were given a higher ranking as soon as the caption “natural forest” was added, indicating the importance of providing information (Jensen 2000). The selection of appropriate, non-intrusive methods of providing informa­tion proved to be important, as panels and signs were more popular among the Danish interviewees than exhibitions and forest rangers. When a seri­ous conflict between residents and foresters emerged over forest manage­ment practices in the Mastbos, an urban woodland near Breda, the Nether­lands, the role of an external expert who introduced residents to various management practices and even involved them in management proved cru­cial for conflict management (Konijnendijk 1995). More active involve­ment of urban residents is also envisioned in Singapore in order to re­establish a relationship between urban youth and nature. Activities such as educational visits and cultural performances have been suggested, as have efforts to turn green areas into places of everyday use (Kong et al. 1999).

In conclusion, there is definitely a role for the “wild woodland” in an urban-forestry context, as long as different meanings of “wild” based on residents’ perceptions and preferences are considered, and management measures favouring nature and natural processes are properly communi­cated.