Austria’s forest economy – basis of forest and culture
Humans have always been closely intertwined with forests. Forests reflect the societies we live in.
From the current status of forest ecosystems, interesting indications can be derived on socio-political and cultural developments also from earlier historical epochs.
Traditional knowledge and the requirements placed upon forests today
With a proportion of forest of appr. 48 % in the national territory and the variety of forest stands, highly valuable experiences on sustainable forest management that are differentiated and varying according to the regions have been gathered in Austria. This traditional knowledge per se is part and parcel of Austrian forest culture.
Since time immemorial, forest owners and forest managers have shouldered enormous responsibility for the optimisation of all forest effects. The multifunctional forest management practiced in Austria is regarded as exemplary all around the world. Sustainable forest management has been the single most important contribution to the preservation of the forest over the centuries! It is key to create awareness for and further develop forestry - culture contexts and forestry-culture institutions in Austria!
As a result of historical development, small-scale ownership structures prevail in our country, with farm holdings that manage appr. 50% of forest areas playing an important role.
Not only forest stands, but also ownership and forestry holding structures have shown that, for centuries, forest management has been a key element in the development of rural regions.
Sustainability – a term emerged from forestry considerations
With the current global discussions on sustainable development, it is possible to expose the term of “sustainability” that has emerged from forest management and its development and change to public view. The technical forestry knowledge harboured by past generations thus constitutes an important basis for further developments in sustainable forest management and the protection of living spaces in general and forest ecosystems in particular.
It is especially the ongoing global discussions on sustainable development that highlight the necessity of knowledge transfer via the term of sustainability that has been coined by forest science as early as 200 years ago and via the practical implementation of this concept.
Due to the enhanced use of fossil resources in the industrial age, this principle was parted with several times, resulting in environmental damage.
Sustainable forest management over the centuries has been the single most important contribution to the preservation of forests!
Taking only as much from nature as regrows naturally, planning beyond the space of several generations, acting responsibly when optimising the impact of the cultivated area and many other forestry principles constitute important guidelines that should also be implemented in other areas of economic and social policy.
Opportunities for forestry holdings
Many forestry holdings do not only preserve objects that are particularly precious in terms of forest history, such as châteaux, monasteries, castles, agricultural estates, historic transport routes, historic boundary demarcations, and many more. Yet some of these cultural-heritage “gems” have fallen into in a deep sleep, and for many forest owners, enhanced marketing would also constitute an interesting option in terms of business management. Some holdings have already identified the undoubted inherent potential for tourism and have, as a consequence, developed “cultural and natural delights” as an additional mainstay besides ongoing sustainable forest management.
Presenting forest culture in an engaging way and building new bridges to reach the general public
It is key to create awareness for and further develop forest-culture contexts and institutions in Austria!
In many instances, Austria’s forests have inspired the artistic work of musicians, painters, graphic artists and poets. By way of the targeted integration of renowned oeuvres and forward-looking projects in the realm of fine and performing arts in forestry education and PR work, understanding for forestry can be aroused and enhanced across broad sections of the population.
Forest-history and forest - culture knowledge was passed down the generations in many forms, either orally or in writing. Part of it has been scholarly examined and is imparted by forestry holdings, forestry institutions, but also by cultural institutions and museums in an engaging and diverse manner.
It is key to avoid narrowing down the scope of interpretation too much, to identify connections to agricultural, socio-economic and environmental history, commerce, industry and the area of services, and to strive for meaningful synergy effects.
Analysis of development potentials and active design
Individual holdings have already identified the undoubtedly inherent potential for tourism and have thus developed “cultural and natural delights” as an additional mainstay besides ongoing sustainable forest management. Yet a systematic analysis of this potential while considering the specific overall situation of tourism in the respective region and the consideration of obstacles, if any, seems to be necessary to ponder the strengths and weaknesses and to be able to assess the potential for development and any risks that may occur.
Rural areas & preservation of cultural heritage
For historical reasons, a significant number of sites that are important in terms of forest history are located in the rural regions of Austria. Their development is considered a priority by Austria as well as by the European Union. Respective funding programmes are designed to address the systematic bolstering of authentic cultural initiatives (Leader +, etc.) that are to be utilised in a meaningful way. The income opportunities attendant upon them make a contribution to covering the frequently considerable financial effort required to preserve the cultural heritage.
Forest and culture – current issues
In order to be able to learn from our forests’ history, we need to adopt measures. For some years, closer attention has been paid to the cultural aspects of sustainable forest management at Austrian level as well as in the framework of international forest policy.
The initiatives launched in Austria that will be continued over the next years are manifold! The Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management, DG Forestry, has been developing the issue of Forest and Culture step by step in close consultation with Österreichischer Forstverein (Austrian Forestry Association) as well as with a host of additional partners.
Currently, we know some 500 institutions, such as forest museums and forest-related cultural initiatives. These constitute an important – and eventually cost-efficient – basis for spreading forest-culture contents. However, their impact is highly dependent on the tireless and frequently unpaid dedication of individuals.
In order to enhance the profile in the general public and to attain or keep up the high technical standards, these institutions have to be supported also by forestry in a targeted manner and taking into account the regional and/or technical circumstances. The prompting of this type of support and hands-on networking constitute the tasks of the Forest and Culture Network. By providing respective services and enhancing PR work, considerable synergy potentials could be utilised to date.
Alliances and new partnerships
Alliances of administration with research and education institutions have attached importance to research and knowledge management concerning forest history.
There are particularly interesting options for linking up knowledge that have emerged from the cooperation with forest consulting institutions and the initiatives in the area of Forest and Culture education activities that have been boosted in Austria especially in recent years.
As early as shortly after the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests held in Vienna, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management, DG Forestry, initiated pilot projects for targeted concept development at selected holding sites by way of Technical Forest Plans designed to promote forest culture. This initiative will also be continued by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management over the next years. The experiences gained from these projects will be presented publicly just like symposia held on comprehensive thematic areas from the realm of Forest and Culture that have already been offered repeatedly.
In the framework of the “Austrian Forest Dialogue”, the topic of “Forest and Culture” (and/or closely connected to it: “Forest and Tourism”) was presented and extensively discussed with regard to the potentials attendant upon it and on the basis of best-practice examples, and respective proposals for measures were included in the “Austrian Forest Programme”.
PR work and further training in forestry
For some years now, enhanced attention has been paid to this cluster of topics at Austrian level as well as in the framework of international forest policy.
A first comprehensive printed publication (binders with loose sheets) on the topic of Forest and Culture, the "Handbuch Forst und Kultur" (Forest and Culture Manual), was drawn up in cooperation with a host of specialist authors. This publication was devised in the course of the preparation and implementation of the further - training offer in forestry culture, "Zertifikatslehrgang Forst und Kultur" (Forest and Culture Certificate Course).
The current version of the "Forest and Culture" Manual – the reference publication on the cultural aspects of forests – is available in the library of BFW (Austrian Research Centre for Forests) for a printing fee.
The book offers comprehensive technical information as well as ideas for its implementation in holdings. Information and ideas for the exploitation of high-quality and sustainable utilisation (in tourism) and – in the medium- and long-term – also for boosting value-added for land owners as well as for involved partners are offered by the manual in 60 expert contributions provided.
In the framework of the “Austrian Forest Dialogue”, the topic of “Forest + Culture” was introduced and discussed extensively with regard to the potentials attendant upon it as well as on the basis of best-practice examples. Respective proposals for measures were included in the “Austrian Forest Programme”.
Forest and Culture Certificate Course
Now, what does this mean in day-to-day forestry practice? A comprehensive answer to this question is provided by the recently developed Forest+Culture Certificate Course which also provides everything that is needed for practical implementation. The training course developed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management together with the Austrian Forestry Association in collaboration with FAST Ort (forestry education and training institution based in Ort, Upper Austria) is unequalled in Europe.
Forest and Culture activities in rural areas make enhanced use of cultural and tourism potentials revolving around forest management. The Forest and Culture Certificate Course offers optimum prerequisites for acquiring specialist fundamental skills. This education offer constitutes a novel and hands-on contribution to the overall initial and further training concept offered by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management. There is also a study course (120 hours in 4 modules) for forest owners as well as for foresters (graduates of BOKU, the Vienna-based University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences; foresters, forest wardens, master forestry managers).
It is possible to involve interested partners from specialist areas the integration of which in project development and implementation can provide a key impetus (e.g. experts from the tourism industry, research/archaeology, education/museums, preservation of monuments/architecture, and other affected/related specialist areas). The aim in this context is to create basic understanding for forestry as well as company-level access to these topics.
Modules 1 to 4 are offered repeatedly by BFW-FAST Ort, the Ort based forestry education and training institution of the Austrian Research Centre for Forests.
Promoting individuals active in the area of Forest and Culture
Also in the past (more comprehensive) projects devised by forest owners from the area of Forest and Culture could frequently be integrated in the LEADER+ programme and were thus eligible for funding on the basis of co-financing. The Rural Development Regulation 07–13 also enabled the consideration of the partial area of forestry funding “Enhancement of cultural heritage”, inter alia, for the topic of Forest and Culture.
In addition, graduates of the Forest+Culture Certificate Course can apply for funding for Forest+Culture education activities under predetermined framework conditions. There is no legal entitlement to the granting of funding.
The following Forest and Culture education events (held within and, if not determined otherwise, also outside of forest areas according to the 1975 Forest Act) are eligible for funding: guided tours; lectures; field trips; presentations in forests and their surrounding areas; readings; music events in the forest; traditional customs events in forests, living workshops.
For further information and for the download of documents and information, also see the website of the handling body tasked with managing this funding segment.
We do not want a romantic look back to the past, but a boost to value-added
On top of hands-on education, training and awareness-building (for all age groups) on topics that have often not been placed high on the agenda by forestry stakeholders over the last decades, the focus is on the exploitation of high-quality and sustainable utilisation for tourism and – in the medium and long term – also on boosting value-added for land owners as well as for involved partners.