Global perspectives and mutual learning for forest ecosystem services

A workshop on two key aspects of forest ecosystem services focused on engaging small plot holders for forestry innovation and on cultural and spiritual ecosystem services from Asian and European perspectives.


The first SINCERE Learning Lab has brought experts together from across the globe to brainstorm on issues pertaining to forest ecosystem services.

The Learning Lab, which took place in Prague, Czech Republic on 14 – 16 October 2019, served as a cross-fertilization workshop where experts from different disciplines, backgrounds and continents could explore two main themes, identified by SINCERE project partners as important foci for discussion at this stage of the project.

Themes were considered in two parallel workstreams. Workstream 1, entitled “Unleashing the potential of small plot holders for forestry innovation”, was introduced by Marko Lovric of the European Forest Institute (EFI), which is the coordinating partner of the SINCERE project. This section of the Learning Lab focused on engaging small-forest-plot holders to participate in the development of innovations related to forest ecosystem services with its primary goal to help SINCERE’s practice partners further develop their Innovation Action case studies.

Participants included researchers and practitioners who explored how to enhance the engagement of (small) private forest owners on various issues. It soon became clear that the definition of “smallholder” may have different meanings depending on the context: it is not just a matter of hectares, but of income-related factors, mindsets and skills.

For this reason, time was devoted first to categorising the major challenges faced by innovators in involving smallholders, before then figuring out how to solve them. Influencing factors include: i) mismatch between institutional, societal and forest owner’s mindset and motivations; ii) economic motivations; iii) skill gaps; and iv) absence or isolation of smallholders who would benefit from networking or being involved in associations and from increased public awareness of their existence through media or marketing.

Liisa Tyrväinen from LUKE on the cultural and spiritual importance of forests in Finland. Photo: SINCERE

Workstream 2, “Comparing Asian and European perspectives in cultural forest ecosystem services”, was led by Jeanne Roux and Georg Winkel (both EFI) with the aim of comparing spiritual ecosystem services from Asian and European perspectives. Here the focus was on the human-nature relationship, governance, management and social transition regarding the use of the forests for its spiritual values. Twenty-one participants from a range of disciples (including academics, practitioners, natural scientists, anthropologists and economists) presented case studies from ten countries, including Japan, China, India, Iran and a selection of European countries.

Participants prepared in advance for the Learning Lab by reflecting on spiritual ecosystem services (SES) from a traditional and modern-day perspective in their respective countries. These reflections served as a starting point for the discussions to compare the development and transition of SES use over time and to identify forestry innovations (governance and market) relating to SES.

From the discussions, it became evident that all the presented countries traditionally have a deep connection with forests for their spiritual and cultural values. How the spiritual value of forests is promoted in different spheres of society (political, economic, religious) varies over time, depending on the goals of powerful actors. Workstream 2 proposes to publish a peer-reviewed paper on these outcomes in due course.

The Learning Lab not only allowed participants to learn from one another within workstreams, but there was also the opportunity for cross-fertilisation between the two streams in a plenary session. Participants could comment on and provide feedback to the other workstream which proved to be an extremely fruitful activity, bringing a fresh view and enriching the discussion.

Informal discussions during workstreams sessions. Takuya Takahashi (University of Shiga Prefecture) is light-heartedly comparing policy making in Europe with the process in Japan. Photo: SINCERE

SINCERE, Spurring INnovations for eCosystem sERvices in Europe, is a 4-year project funded through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, coordinated by the European Forest Institute. The SINCERE Learning Lab was organised by Prospex Institute.

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Spurring INnovations for forest eCosystem sERvices in Europe (SINCERE), a project coordinated by the European Forest Institute, advances innovative mechanisms, including novel policies and business models, which support the provision of Forest Ecosystem Services across Europe and beyond. Innovations developed through SINCERE explore new means to enhance such services in ways that benefit forest owners as well as serving broad societal needs.