Profile: Daan Bleichrodt
Organization: IVN Tiny Forest the Netherlands
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
What was your personal motivation to plant your first forest?
Daan: In 2014 I met two girls in the city of the Hague, Cynthia and Ouafa. They were 10 and 11 year old when I interviewed them about their early childhood experience in nature. As it turned out, they had never been to nature. They lived 1,5 kilometers from the beach! I was shocked, because tens of thousands of kids grow up in cities and are never connect with nature. How can we expect kids who don’t grow up with nature to start caring about global warming, deforestation, plastic soup and climate change? They might be the last generation to be able to stop this.
Shortly after this interview I watched the TED talk by Shubhendu Sharma. I was so happy, this was a great solution for kids growing up in the city: a forest the size of a tennis court can be planted in every neighborhood! This could be a great way to connect kids like Cynthia and Ouafa to nature, by letting them plant their very own tiny forest.
Can you describe the surroundings of your first forest, what type of place did you convert?
Daan: We planted our very first Tiny Forest in the municipality of Zaanstad, in the Darwin Park. The location is next to a busy traffic road that runs through park. The area was covered in grass and is mowed 28 times a year. We were able to transform 225 square meters of lawn into a dense, natural forest. The other great thing about the location was the close proximity of two schools and the nature museum. This way we could instantly connect schoolchildren to the forest.
What were the biggest obstacles in planting this forest?
Daan: The hardest thing was finding the location for the forest. I first tried to procure a location in the municipalities of Haarlem and Amsterdam. After I ran into a wall in these municipalities, my colleague Rutger connected me to the municipality of Zaanstad. We had our first meeting in May 2015 and in December of 2015 we planted the forest. A week before the planting day the location was almost cancelled, but a brave civil servant stood up for us and we started the soil preparation. That is when we encountered a lot of debris in the soil at a depth of 50 centimeters. After an emergency consultation, we decided to plant the forest 50 meters away from the area that we first initiated. Fortunately the new location was nearby and we planted the forest on December 10th 2015.
Who did you cooperate with? How did the local community respond to the forest?
Daan: We could not have done this project without the local tree expert – Loek Vlaanderen, the municipality of Zaanstad, the Nature museum, the two local schools and local residents who volunteered to help. The schoolchildren were very excited about planting their own forest and very proud of the result. Some community members were very skeptical about the idea. and how likely it was to succeed. However, most locals appreciated our effort to reconnect kids growing up in cities with nature.
Did you encounter any rare species of plants and animals? Or which did you never expect to find in your forest?
Daan: The first winter a rabbit made a burrow in our forest and hibernated there. A year later the rabbit left and a group of wasps moved in. I was very excited to see how fast wildlife found this new tiny ecosystem. In 2017, Wageningen University monitored the biodiversity in the forest and discovered 185 different species. They found different types birds, amphibians, small mammals, woodlice, centepedes, slugs, snails, ants, worms, grasshoppers, butterflies and wild flowers. The research is still going on today, and so far, the biodiversity has increased every year.
What did you learn from your first forest?
Daan: So many things. I learned about the value of good relationships with municipalities and the benefit and fun of working with school children and landscapers. I learned how to address the media: it was my first of many interviews in newspapers and TV. It was the first forest I planted, so I learned about soil, about native trees, about the Miyawaki method and the wildlife a tiny forest attracts. The biggest lesson I learned was framing of the concept. I was so excited when I first watched Shubhendu’s TED talk and I started telling everyone about the best method in the world. This narrative did not catch on. When I started telling people about a project I was excited about and wanted to see if this method could work in the Netherlands, municipalities, schools and other partner wanted to team up. People love to experiment and try new things!
What is the next thing you want to learn about in forest making?
Daan: I would love to meet Miyawaki and the people he works with and follow their training program about the whole process of the Miyawaki method. We are still finetuning the method to the Dutch climate. In Japan I would like to learn more about the different ways to create a healthy forest soil and about the selection and distribution of trees species. I am also curious about the nurseries in Japan and how they supply native trees to small and big projects. The final thing I would like to learn, is to create a huge Miyawaki forest and apply this method on a much larger scale.