Small forests, big benefits

Since I started hiking along Flemish backroads with my little girl – our favourite activity – we got to meet already lots of little patches of forest in a matrix of agriculture. I must say: nothing pleases me more than wandering in and out of forests, with different views around every corner and landscape paintings opening up to you around every corner.

From the forest into the open, my all-time favourite kind of experience of the Flemish countryside

However, one could wonder what the value of these little forest patches is. Wouldn’t it be better if we would have big forests, with less edges and a big and undisturbed core? Surely, this ancient state of forests should be preferable? Turned out I wasn’t the first one to ask that question while strolling through nature’s best. A recent publication from the ‘SmallFOREST’-project , a European-wide research network by some of my favourite colleagues, got out to find the answer!

A little forest patch flanked by agriculture. High quality nature, or a plaster on a sore wound for our ecosystems?

Obviously, more and bigger patches of nature are better, no doubt in that, and it is known that bigger forest patches support higher biodiversity. That doesn’t mean, however, that all these little forest snippets are a ‘waste of space’! Surprisingly, small forests can actually disproportionally contribute to so-called ecosystem services.

Indeed, small woodlands in agricultural landscapes, especially ancient woodlands, have a higher potential to deliver multiple ecosystem services such as carbon storage and resource availability for animals, on a per area basis.

A reassuring thought to have when wandering through Flanders, which is especially well-known for the increasingly smaller fragments of nature in a matrix of agriculture and urbanity. Of course, there are big fights to fight: the small fragments that are there, need long-term conservation, and there is an ongoing need for better connectivity between such patches. Yet that every inch of forests can have its merits for the landscape, that does make me very happy.

As always exploring Flanders nature, and enjoying every second of it

You like this idea of highly beneficial little forest patches? Check out the paper itself!
There is also much more where that came from, for example the work on the importance of hedges for biodiversity in the landscape, here!

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