At the West side of Mount Etna, located above the village of Bronte, there is a former waste disposal site on a field of lava. Here the local conservation organisation Giacche Verdi Bronte and the Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung established a forest site for children, together with the youth of Bronte and supported by volunteers from Germany and other countries. This reforestation project started in 2011 and is scheduled to last for around 12 years. It is an important contribution to the protection of climate and raises awareness for nature and environmental protection among young people.
The community-owned project area emerged as a result of volcanic eruptions that took place in 1651. Twelve hectares were allocated by the community, of which five ha are part of a former waste disposal site. Cleaned and supplemented with fresh soil, this site now offers interesting morphological structures. A small part has already been replanted with broom. The other parts are highly jointed with lava rocks and plains, where some Etna brooms (the endemic species) grow as a primary settler.
The planned reforestation area is close to the periphery of Bronte and stretches south east towards the volcanic cone. Its boundary is marked by the railway line “Circum Etna”, a light railway train that almost circles Mount Etna. The border of the project area meets with an old railway station that could be used later. A new housing development in the Northwest provides homes for 3.000 residents. The community intends to establish a school for 1.500 pupils who will be able to see the forest grow and who can use it for recreation. In the North a stone quarry defines the project area. In the future a wall of fast growing bushes will protect the residents from the dust deriving from quarry operations.
Every child in Bronte and neighbouring villages is planting a tree – its own tree! The child will be responsible for the tree and will grow up together with it. All children can be part of the forest project and have the chance of participating in the recreation of a natural playground on the outskirts of Bronte. Right from the beginning a group of teenagers of a vocational school participate in the development of the forest.
The project focuses on the following goals of partially international interest:
- (Environmental) Education for sustainable Development:
- Awareness raising of the children, lecturers and residents, for the value of the forest and for the potential consequences of climate change
- Identification of natural connections, knowledge of species etc.
- Close-to-town nature experiences
- Creativity in realizing your own ideas
- Practical handicraft activities (e.g. constructing nest boxes for birds or insects)
- Cultural exchange with foreign volunteers
- Promotion of team spirit
- Recreation for the residents
- Protection of the climate / CO2-capture and dust filter
- Improvement of the hydrological balance
- Improvement of the microclimate and the quality of living
- Securing genetic resources by planting rare trees (e.g. Downy Oak)
- Giving an example for close-to-nature reforestation (planting trees in a mixed forest with local Species)
- Maintaining natural processes (succession)
- Strengthening self-confidence of the children by allowing taking responsibility for their own trees, and by participating in the development of the forest project.
The planted species are native trees and partly endemic species (Etna Broom, Holm Oak, Downy Oak, Sweet Chestnut, Walnut) that are compatible with the local environment. The project area has at least four different morphological zones that overlay. Adapted to these zones there will be areas of recreation, adventure and environmental education.
Depending on the children’s ideas different areas will develop, for example a pure and dense woodland area with a quiet “core area“ for the development of typical local fauna, a place for picnic and barbeque facilities, a garden area near the school with flowering meadows and fruit trees, as well as a sportive area for climbing or volleyball. The different areas will be connected by hiking and educational trails with information boards, games, and the like. The outcome of this project is a forest, where children can experience and be creative with nature.
Giacche Verdi and the volunteers visited different school classes in order to present the idea of the children’s forest and to conduct environmental training about the ecology of forests.
The kids were asked to develop ideas and they creatively worked out their wishes. Together with teenagers of a vocational school they developed a map of the future children’s forest.
The Opening in March 2012 was a great success. About 500 children visited the project site and closely attended the first planting of a tree by the mayor of Bronte. He was accompanied by important representatives of the local government and media. Giacche Verdi and Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung were actively supported by several partner organisations offering activities for the children like a theatre performance, a nature questionnaire, and info points.