New ways – new opportunities through Green Care WALD

People in the forest
Photo: BFW

A study has proved that forests are good for people’s wellbeing and health. “Green Care WALD“ (meaning Green Care FOREST) is intended for interested forest owners who think of opening their forests for people searching recreation.

Forests are places of recreation, represent an economic factor and provide protection. And forests are good for human wellbeing and health – there is scientific evidence of that now.

According to the new study on the effect of forest landscapes on health, entitled “Gesundheitswirkung von Waldlandschaften“ (available for download), spending some time in forests has a favourable effect on mental, physical and social health and wellbeing. Even the improvement of people’s mind contributes to mental health. The study was conducted by the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in cooperation with the Public Health Institute of the Vienna Medical University.

With the help of the Initiative Green Care WALD the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management wants to encourage people to make greater use of the multiple opportunities offered by forests. The meeting “Green Care WALD - Was der Wald zum Wohlbefinden beitragen kann“ (Green Care FOREST - What forests can contribute to wellbeing), held in May 2014 at the Forest Training Centre Ossiach, dealt with this topic.

Synergy effects with Green Care

Green Care stands for services and projects that agricultural and forestry holdings offer in cooperation with social agencies and institutions – to promote health, wellbeing and quality of life. Target groups of Green Care are persons with special needs or burn-out syndrome, the long-term jobless, older people, but also children and young people. Projects for people having nutritional problems or difficulties concerning integration are offered, too.

Internationally, Green Care has been established for several decades already, for example in the Netherlands. In Austria, the first Green Care projects in the agricultural sector were launched three years ago.

Green Care WALD sees itself as a platform offering interested forest owners an opportunity to open up their forests to persons seeking recreation. In general, an open modular system which can be adapted to new target groups as necessary is to be offered.

Green Care provides new income opportunities for farmers. The prerequisite is always that social commitment is a matter close to the farmer’s heart.

Green Care is a perfect bridge between agriculture and forestry and the population, between humans, animals and nature.

Big Challenges 

Austria is facing several socio-demographic and medical challenges. As many as one in four Austrians feels threatened by burnout; one out of eleven children in Vienna is overweight; in 2020, a quarter of the population will be over 60 years old.

The literature study “Gesundheitswirkung von Waldlandschaften“ on the effects of forest landscapes on health deals with these challenges.

The objective of the study was the systematic search of and work on scientific literature on the issue of forest, health and well-being. According to the study even short stays in a forest can provide recreation and reduce stress, fatigue and exhaustion. The effect is particularly marked in women and persons suffering from chronic stress. As regards physical health, a strengthening of the immune system and an improvement in the quality of sleep have been proved.