Forests are good for you. That's the message of the International Day of the Forest, which was marked in Switzerland by events around the country devoted to making the public more aware of the benefits of forests on body, mind and spirit.
"Forests are very important for health," says Dr. Felix Küchler of the Lausanne-based Swiss Foundation for Health Promotion.
"Forests are places where it is quiet, where you can breathe clean air, where you have different plays of light, different relaxing sounds and where you can really recover from daily stress."
But while people may come away from a visit to a forest feeling good, few are aware of the reasons why.
"That's why the foundation is participating in the International Day of the Forest," says Dr. Küchler. "We want to make people aware that they can improve their health by going to forests regularly."
Silviva, an organisation working in environmental education and the forest, is responsible for co-ordinating the various projects around the country marking this year's International Day of the Forest. It says that the public is being urged to invest in its own health by investing in the future of the forests.
The forest is a factor in human health that shouldn't be underestimated, says Silviva, and it's in the interests of those responsible for the forests to cultivate this "product".
At the same time, experts warn that while considering the effects of the forests on human health, people shouldn't lose sight of the health of the forests themselves.
Peter Brang, a scientist with the Swiss Federal Research Institute for Forests, Snow and Landscape at Birmensdorf, says that while many Swiss appreciate the forests, they're not willing to take steps to reduce the air pollution that ultimately damages the forests.
"In general, the forests don't really need us," he says. "They are able to sustain themselves and cope with the natural stress exerted on them by adverse climate and storms for example."
However, there's a limit to the adjusting abilities of forests, says Brang. "When humans add pollution to the list of stresses there comes a time when too much is too much."
Nevertheless, forests in Switzerland are expanding, he says. This is taking place primarily in alpine areas on land that was once used for agriculture but has been abandoned.
by Paul Sufrin