Same trees, different perspectives: using a marteloscope to present forests in a new light

What do you see when you look at a forest? The first, obvious answer could be “trees”, but the more nuanced reality is that forests have different meanings and values to different people. Trees provide important habitats to animals, such as cavities for bats to sleep in and branches for birds to build their nests on – an aspect often emphasised by ecologists and nature conservation managers. At the same time, trees offer valuable resources for producing furniture, paper, construction materials and other objects made of wood – a perspective often adopted by forest owners and foresters.

Where these perspectives clash, societal conflicts may arise – a topic that was examined in real life by students of the Liebfrauenschule in Bonn, Germany, involved in the EU-funded project MULTIPLIERS, coordinated by the University of Bonn. From 19-22 February, a group of 55 eighth graders visited a so-called “marteloscope” in Bonn’s Kottenforst nature reserve.

Marteloscopes are training sites used by foresters, nature conservation associations, environmental organisations and educational institutions to help them visualise complex decision-making processes around forests. For instance: which trees can be harvested in a productive forest, and which trees should be kept standing due to their high biodiversity value? In these training sites, all trees are numbered and information about the different attributes of each tree is collected, enabling people to use fact-based information for making better decisions on forest management.

The visit to the marteloscope in Bonn was facilitated by experts from the European Forest Institute, the University of Bonn and the Regional State Forest Enterprise Rhein-Sieg-Erft in Bonn, who first took students on a short introductory tour through the marteloscope area. Then, students were split into two groups: one representing foresters, and the other representing nature conservation managers. Using a tablet and a tailored software, the goal of each group was to gather information about relevant aspects of individual trees, such as their height and diameter, potential economic value, and the presence of tree microhabitats for insects, birds and other animals.

Equipped with these facts and data, students had to decide within their groups what action to apply to each tree, often considering the presence of other trees in their surroundings. Finally, the groups of foresters and nature conservation managers came together to compare their perspectives and see if they could reach similar conclusions. If not, each group had to support their perspective with facts and arguments and through dialogue, come up with a solution that was acceptable to both sides.

“This was a very realistic experience! In schoolbooks, the topic is discussed in a much more abstract way, for instance, with broad questions such as ‘Should we completely clear this forest so that an amusement park can be created and we can create jobs?’ But not from the perspective that was illuminated here, discussing individually the future of each tree. Learning about the professional field of a forester or the approach adopted in nature conservation is significantly more valuable than working with textbooks.”

Sabriye Ali Oglou, trainee teacher, Liebenfrauenschule Bonn

“What I really liked about the visit is that we gained a new perspective on the trees, from economic and ecological points of view, and deepened that knowledge. What I found most fun was the discussion in groups. It was good to know what the job of a forester is and how researchers and scientists can support them. It became clearer to me that people really need forests, and that they are very important to the animals as well.”

Linda Tönsjost, student of the Liebfrauenschule in Bonn

The marteloscope visit was part of a longer set of activities on the topic of “forest use vs. forest protection”, which is also being taught in Sweden and Slovenia as part of the MULTIPLIERS project. In Germany, the next step for the students will be to present their learnings and takeaways to their parents and the general public, acting as “multipliers” of the knowledge they acquired.

If you are curious to learn more about marteloscopes, you can read more about the topic on the website of the Integrate Network: an initiative gathering more than 220 practical demonstration sites in 26 European countries, including the marteloscope in the Kottenforst near Bonn.

Photos: Maria Schlossmacher and Priscila Jordão