Research and innovations for the services that forests provide to society are the focus of a European project funded under Horizon 2020. Responding to society’s demands for services such as recreation, biodiversity provision and carbon storage, the project will look at innovative ways to value and implement such “forest ecosystem services” in Europe and beyond.
Spurring INnovations for forest eCosystem sERvices in Europe (SINCERE) is a four-year project funded through the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme. From 2018 to 2022, SINCERE will develop novel policies and new business models by connecting knowledge and expertise from practice, science and policy, across Europe and globally.
A core element of the project involves continuous collaborative learning from the project’s innovation actions, located in nine regions in Europe and two international cases in Peru and Russia. Innovations developed through SINCERE are intentionally varying in nature but, as a whole, aim to explore new means to enhance forest ecosystem services in ways that benefit forest owners as well as serving broad societal needs.
SINCERE’s research also contributes to the development of a coordinated European policy framework to maximise the value to society of forest ecosystem services and their sustainable provision.
One of the major challenges relating to the management of Europe’s forests is to balance the provision of distinct forest ecosystem services with broad societal demands. If markets and existing governance arrangements fail, forest owners and managers struggle to meet societal needs.
Only some of the services that forests provide are formally part of markets or value chains and some important services have no direct monetary value. Forest ecosystem services need policy and economic incentives to support them, and ways to value services with no direct market value, so that forest managers and owners have additional motives to supply these services.
There is a need to explore new approaches to connect profitable forest management with changing societal demands. Against this background, innovative mechanisms (IM), including novel policies and business models, have the potential to align ecosystem services’ supply and demand
Forests are essential to life on Earth, providing us with one of our main sources of natural resources. They are home to many species, from the animal kingdom to fungi, plants and many microorganisms. Forests are complex ecosystems that can host a substantial part of our planet’s biodiversity and store genetic resources.
They also provide multiple goods and services which benefit people in many ways: economically, materially, health-wise, emotionally or socially. These Forest Ecosystem Services, or forests’ contribution to people, are made up of many elements, some of which might be more obvious than others.
Forests offer us many goods: foods, such as honey, nuts, fruits and mushrooms; timber; cork; wood biomass; aromatic and medicinal plants. These can be a source of income for people, though this is not always the case: most of them are common goods.
Forests can be the perfect place to relax, to enjoy nature and to practice recreational activities, for instance cycling, running, tree-climbing or walking. These activities can support tourism or simply support human well-being, both physical and psychologically. People have cultural and spiritual associations with the forest, which may be formalised or personal.
After oceans, forests are the world’s largest storehouses of carbon. They contribute to climate change mitigation, absorbing carbon dioxide and storing it in wood, leaves and soil, as well as producing oxygen for people to breathe. Because forests can absorb and store carbon over an extended period of time, they are considered “carbon sinks”.
Forests have an important role in the global water cycle, absorbing water from the soil through tree roots and returning it to the atmosphere. The diversity of trees and plants that make up forests around the world can improve and maintain soil quality, which has a crucial role in the nutrients cycle and in filtering water.
Society benefits from forests in a multitude of ways and we expect our forests to perform multiple functions, simultaneously and sustainably. Balancing the demands for these Forest Ecosystem Services is, therefore, a major challenge for our times.