Small forests, big data... Highlights from the Tiny Forest Monitoring Report 2023 - Earthwatch

Small forests, big data… Highlights from the Tiny Forest Monitoring Report 2023

Our Science Coordinator, Georgie Sturgeon, celebrates the remarkable contributions made by our Tiny Forest citizen scientists, and shares some of the key insights from our latest Tiny Forest Monitoring Report.

It’s British Science Week, an annual celebration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Schools, museums, libraries, businesses, and communities across the country are embracing the spirit of inclusivity by bringing science to people.

This Science Week, we’re celebrating the remarkable efforts of the Tiny Forest community. Without the dedication of Tree Keepers (our wonderful Tiny Forest volunteers), citizen scientists, and local supporters, sustaining Tiny Forest research and understanding how to create greener, healthier urban spaces for all would be impossible.

Tiny Forest is proof that science is for everyone! From pre-schoolers to 90 year-olds, Tiny Forest offers a blend of hands-on experiences and boundless fun for all ages. Data collected year-on-year from Tiny Forests allow us to understand the benefits of urban forests for people and nature, paving the way for a more resilient future.

Earthwatch’s Tiny Forest science team consists of just five people. To collect all the data contributed by the wonderful Tiny Forest community in 2023, would require approximately 798 hours of research time, far more hours than our small team could manage alone. So, a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you!

I’m delighted to share the newly released Tiny Forest Monitoring Report 2023, which takes us a step closer to answering some of our Tiny Forest research questions, such as how these small but powerful sites capture carbon and help cool cities. The next monitoring season is fast approaching, starting in April, and we will need your continued support.

Biodiversity insights

The Ground Dweller Invertebrate Monitoring Survey is completed on the underside of our biodiversity tiles in the forest (see picture below). Counts are taken of the different groups of commonly seen soil invertebrates, such as millipedes and worms. Although if you’re in luck you could have a surprise visitor in your forest! I’ve heard of toads, newts, a giant bush cricket and even mice. A personal highlight for me was finding a newt resting in a Tiny Forest in the heart of London.

Survey results from the Tiny Forest Monitoring Report 2023 show an increase in ground dwellers after three growing seasons.

Discovering what's crawling underneath a biodiversity tile in one of our Tiny Forests

This survey has become a crowd favourite, being submitted a massive 559 times. Results shows the number of different ground dweller invertebrate groups continues to increase as the Tiny Forest grows.

We also collect data on butterflies and pollinators. If you’re eager to get involved, why not participate in our curiosity challenges found in the report? The Tiny Forest Biodiversity Curiosity Challenge is:

Participate in a pollinator count, focussing on areas with flowering tree species. This includes hawthorn, willows, crab apples, rowan and cherry trees, which will flower in April and May.

This May, our Tiny Forest Wildlife Count returns! Keep an eye on our social media channels to find out more over the next few weeks.

Flood Management insights

The Flood Management Surveys remain a personal favourite of mine — and many enthusiastic children who can’t wait to get their hands muddy!

Participants determine soil characteristics such as colour, moisture, and texture, along with measuring soil infiltration rates inside and outside the forests.

A Tree Keeper conducting our Flood Management Surveys

This year, we were able to observe an infiltration rate change as the forests age, because we now have a sample of forests at three years old (n=41).

Data shows infiltration rate increases as Tiny Forest grows, as much as 65% faster inside than outside in the oldest forests.

This shows the positive role Tiny Forests can play in flood management services. Can you imagine if these positive trends continue — and the benefit these small, wooded areas could have on our cities in the future?

Tree Growth & Thermal Comfort insights

As our Tiny Forest network and data base grows, we’re able to glean more insights, especially now that some forests have reached three years old, with distinct canopy layers beginning to develop.

This year, we took a closer look at a case study site in Speen. Two adjacent Tiny Forests planted in 2021, we compared two soil preparation methods: excavation and reduced-depth rotavation. These forests have the same tree species composition, the same soil conditions and have experienced the same weather and growing conditions.

Assessing tree growth and thermal comfort

Despite identical conditions, the study revealed significant differences in tree growth and microclimate. Trees planted in excavated soils grew taller, and the excavated forest displayed significant differences in temperature and humidity compared to the forest with reduced soil preparation.

This shows that the tree growth and cooling benefits are delivered sooner with full soil preparation. An interesting impact of our soil preparation methods, which is often questioned.

Community fun

If none of the above activities or findings have captured your attention yet, what about getting out there and spreading the Tiny Forest love instead?! Could you host an event for your Tiny Forest? The majority of our public Tiny Forests are open, accessible to be used and enjoyed by all. No permissions needed.

The report highlights a few groups hosting events, which could be all the inspiration you need. What about a Tiny Forest Tour (have a look at Tree Keeper Paul’s brilliant blog), a Tiny Forest birthday party (as forests in Barnet and Derby have), Tiny Forest yoga or a run club destination, coffee or picnic spot, treasure hunts, storytelling venue or even promoting your forest at local fair or festival?

If you have an exciting event planned to celebrate your Tiny Forest, be sure to let us know or send us pictures.

Tree Keepers celebrating the Mutton Brook Tiny Forest’s first birthday

Get involved

These forests need looking after and monitoring to help us reveal their benefits. If you want to know more, head over to the Tiny Forest page on our website. This is where you also find the full Tiny Forest Monitoring Report 2023. A recorded breakdown of the report is available on our YouTube channel.

Would you like to know if there is a Tiny Forest in your local area? Do you want to step up and become a Tree Keeper? Do you have any questions about engaging your local community in activities at your local Tiny Forest? We love hearing from you!

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