Photo: Unsplash

Today, March 21, is the day dedicated to forests. Forests are one of the planet’s key ecosystems, supporting the conditions for our lives – they provide oxygen, help recharge groundwater, which is the only source of water for rivers in dry months, purify the air, provide food and life-saving medicines, capture and store large amounts of carbon dioxide, thereby contributing to the reduction of climate change, are a source of various raw materials. This year the theme of the initiative is “Forests and health”.

The health of forests is a condition for the health of people. Conservation and sustainable management of forests is one of the best ways to protect our planet and ourselves. For the last 30 years, the area of forests in Europe has increased by 9%. However, every year the world loses over 10 million hectares of forest, which is the size of Iceland.

The theme of the celebration presents some of the benefits of forests for human health:

  • Forests provide food products such as fruits, mushrooms, honey, and nuts. Some communities rely entirely on forests as sources of food.
  • Over 50,000 species of forest plants are used for medicinal purposes.
  • Forests are a place of recreation. It is no coincidence that nature-based tourism is growing three times faster than the conventional tourism industry as a whole and currently accounts for approximately 20% of the global market.
  • Studies link increases in green space and trees in cities with reductions in obesity and crime. For example, children living in areas with access to parks have lower obesity rates than those with little or no access to green space.
  • Forests and parks take care of physical and mental health. They are places where people socialize, do sports, and reduce stress. Scientific studies prove that reduced contact with the natural environment leads to an increase in the occurrence of chronic inflammatory diseases. Japan’s Forestry Agency coined the term “forest bathing”, the practice registered as a scientifically approved therapy method designed to promote a healthy lifestyle.
  • Jobs – Forestry and the woodworking industry provide employment for more than 2.6 million people in Europe. In the rural regions of Bulgaria, forestry is one of the main employers of the population.
  • Last but not least, forests have an aesthetic value and create a sense of belonging. They are the subject of many educational activities and scientific research.

© Jake Melara

The loss of forests also means the loss of irreplaceable habitats for animal and plant life. Their restoration is a key objective of the projects “LIFE for Eagle’s Habitats” and “From Iron Curtain to Green Belt: restoring ecological networks in Southeast Bulgaria”.

The project “LIFE for Eagle’s Habitats” is implemented by the Executive Forest Agency in partnership with the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, SouthEastern State Company – Sliven and NorthEastern State Comapny – Shumen. The long-term conservation of the Lesser Spotted Eagle in our country, through the protection and sustainable management of its habitats and the creation of new ones, is the focus of the project activities.

The project “From Iron Curtain to Green Belt: restoring ecological networks in Southeast Bulgaria” is financed under the Endangered Landscapes Programme (ELP) and is implemented by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, Southeast State Forestry Company (SSFC), Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation (RRF), BirdLife Europe and Central Asia (BLECA). The project aims to demonstrate and pilot state-of-the-art restoration of xerothermic forests, grasslands, and riverine galleries to create a large network of viable ecosystems resilient to climate change and to secure the future of threatened species.

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21 March the International Day of Forests in 2012 to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests. Countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns.

The organizers are the United Nations Forum on Forests and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with Governments, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests and other relevant organizations in the field.