15 April 2021

IMBA EUROPE POLICY POSITION PAPER ON THE EU FOREST STRATEGY

IMBA Europe embraces the proposed new EU Forest Strategy, in alignment with the ambitious vision of the Green New Deal to ensure that the EU becomes a sustainable and climate neutral economy by 2050. This paper highlights the commitments of IMBA to sustainability practices and promotion of environmental education, whilst also providing recommendations and feedback for the EU commission in relation to the EU Forestry strategy.

The comprehensive EU Forest Strategy will look to ensure that forests are addressed in a consistent manner across different policies.  IMBA recognises the importance of the new EU Forest Strategy in protecting our forests through restoration and sustainable management, as well as education. In order to protect the many services forests provide it is important to understand the current pressures of climate change, which aggravate other key drivers of pressures. Forests are hugely important ecosystems to mitigate climate change and biodiversity conservation, as well as supporting local economies, through recreation and sport.

IMBA Europe is aware of the potential impacts on the natural environment and we recognise the seriousness and value in protecting the natural environment through education and protection. As outdoor enthusiasts, it has become increasingly obvious that the forests are under increasing pressure as a direct result of climate change. Other observed pressures from our members is lack of management and fragmentation due to land use changes. The forest based sector should contribute to preserving the natural environment, through avoiding unsustainable practices in order to secure the future welfare and benefits of forest environments.

IMBA Europe and the new EU Forest strategy

It is both the vision of IMBA Europe and the EU Forest strategy that forests and the forest based sector continue to be a ‘natural home for recreation and learning’. IMBA aims to get more people on bikes through sustainable mountain biking, and increase awareness of the importance of preserving our natural environment through education. It is the mission of IMBA Europe to improve people’s lives through this connection to nature and the environment. It is our responsibility to work towards sustainable riding, sustainable trail building and advocate responsibility and respect for nature, in order to encourage and teach the mountain biking communities of Europe to do the same.

Recent studies have shown that participation in outdoor sports has further increased since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, particularly in the sales of mountain bikes (Platter, 2021). There are many benefits to participation in outdoor sports, from mental and physical well-being, to the economic benefits in rural areas. A recent and ongoing EU project, ‘The Benefits of Outdoor Sports for Society’ (BOSS), has developed through a multi-disciplinary sequential approach to measure the benefits of outdoor sports for society. From 133 relevant studies over a period of 15 years, evidence of the benefits of outdoor sports has been categorized into six broad categories (Eigenschenk, B, et al, 2018). 

  • Physical health
  • Mental and wellbeing
  • Education and life-long learning
  • Active citizenship
  • Crime and anti-social behaviour
  • Additional benefits

There is growing evidence of the health and mental benefits of being in nature, or having contact with the natural environment (Brink et al, 2016). Furthermore, outdoor sports, such as mountain biking, can be seen as a key way to engage people with ‘health enhancing physical activity, (HEPA) which is a priority of the European commission and member states.

IMBA Europe’s proposals on the EU Forest Strategy

As mentioned above, IMBA Europe is aware of the current pressures forests are under from climate change, and the associated key drivers. The EU Forest Strategy will seek measures to avoid or correct unsustainable practices, in order to increase the protection of forests and restoration efforts to achieve the EU’s Climate and Biodiversity objectives. IMBA Europe advocates for sustainable trail building practices, and achieving greater access to forests in order to avoid unsustainable practices, such as illegal trail building. We believe that we need to work towards inclusive access, instead of access that is exclusively for hikers/walkers in these natural environments. In order to achieve this goal of more inclusive access to forests, we believe there needs to be greater investment by the EU commission, and provision of better incentives (e.g. financial resources) for both forest public and private owners/ managers to manage forests appropriately for a variety of targeted audiences. When designed well, mountain bike (MTB) trails meet user needs and encourage responsible use of trails, which minimises impact on the environment. A mitigating measure to enhance the recreational carrying capacity of forests is to improve trail accessibility, and better recreational trail infrastructure. 

Included in the EU Forest Strategies goals, is to ensure that a synergy is found between socio-economic interests in forests, and the protection of forests. In order to achieve this synergy, and protect the future welfare of our forests, education in sustainable forestry and practices will be essential. IMBA is currently working on several projects working towards educating and implementing sustainable environmental practices in the outdoors. The SEE project (Sustainability and Environmental Education in Outdoor Sports) is a 3 year Erasmus project, funded by the EU, which will promote education in and through sport with special focus on skills development for outdoor sports professionals such as outdoor sports trainers, guides, or instructors. The SEE Project will also help to promote increased voluntary activities in sport, together with social inclusion, equal opportunities and awareness of the importance of health-enhancing physical activity all in a frame of sustainable development and in line with the new Green Deal for Europe. As highlighted in the EU Forestry Strategy, ‘strong research and innovative agenda to improve knowledge of forests and optimize composition, structure, management and use’ is necessary to continue and promote outdoor sports, which is what projects like the SEE project are aiming to achieve. Synergy between the environment and outdoors sports. 

Local economic benefits of mountain biking tourism

Sustainable recreational sport and tourism will be a key driver in supporting local economies in a post covid era. The recent policy recommendations from the Commission for Natural Resources in relation to the policy ‘Towards more sustainable tourism for EU cities and regions’, highlights tourism as a strategic sector, a tool for integration and a key driver of social and economic recovery. Mountain biking as a sport and recreational activity has grown rapidly over the past two decades, with an increased demand for further development and marketing of mountain bike trails and parks. This increase in demand allows for further job creation within the mountain bike industry. Greater access and inclusivity to forests will encourage local economies to invest more in the infrastructure surrounding the forests, through hospitality, bike shops, guiding services and accommodation. Investing in greater outdoor sport inclusivity within forests, aligns with the EU forestry strategies planning for forests of the future - “new training, skilled jobs that reflect multiple functions''. An example of such training within the mountain biking sector, which would lead to forest based industry jobs, is the current EU project ‘Developing Intereuropean Resources for Trail building Training’. The DIRTT project aims to develop an educational framework and professional training program for people active in the trail building sector, addressing the needs of professionals and volunteers in the field of planning, design, construction, maintenance and management of mountain bike trails. IMBA Europe is one of the partners in the project, including advocacy organisations, sports associations, governmental and educational institutions, tourism, as well as private enterprises in the MTB trail building sector. 

In summary, in alignment with the EU Forest Strategy, IMBA Europe aims to ensure that a synergy is found between socio-economic interests in forests, and the protection of biodiversity in forests. To achieve this synergy, and see that all stakeholders will continue to benefit from our forests, education in sustainable outdoor practices is essential.  IMBA Europe will continue to advocate for easy access to sustainable mountain bike and shared-use trails, from close-to-home rides to iconic, backcountry experiences through working closely with land managers and governing bodies. Through our focus on creating and catalyzing more trails close to home, we aim to serve mountain bikers as well as economic, health and quality-of-life needs of growing urban population centers, struggling industrial towns and everything in between.  Our ongoing mission is to improve people’s lives with better health, climate and economics through mountain biking.

References:

  • Martin Platter (9. März 2021) Schweizerische Fachstelle Velo und E-Bike SFVE, fachstelle-velo.ch
  • Eigenschenk, B., Thomann, A., McClure, M. (2018). Benefits of Outdoor Sports for Society (BOSS). Literature review. European Network of Outdoor Sports: Brussels.
  • ten Brink, P., Mutafoglu, K., Schweitzer, J-P., Kettunen M., Twigger-Ross, C., Baker, J., Kuipers, Y., Emonts, M., Tyrväinen, L., Hujala, T., & Ojala, A. (2016). The Health and Social Benefits of Nature and Biodiversity Protection. A report for the European Commission, Institute for European Environmental Policy, London/Brussels.
  • Sustainability and Outdoor Education, https://www.leavenotraceireland.org/see-project/
  • Developing Inter European Resources for Trailbuilding Training https://www.imba-europe.org/news/dirtt-project-%E2%80%93-path-sustainabl...