The value of a micro-forest

Simple analysis of micro-forest costs

How much does it cost to build a micro-forest?

From a simple accounting perspective, a micro-forest costs around $500 per square metre. This figure is based on the first micro-forest we built in Downer, ACT. Our budget was $40,000 budget with an area of 800 square metre.

At one online-workshop one participant (I suspect an economist or accountant) commented that the micro-forest very expensive exercise. They used simple maths dividing the total cost by the number of trees (1800). Using this method it costs $22 per tree.

But this method is too simple. It ignores the input of professionals like landscape architects, water harvesters and community facilitators. It ignores that we are creating spaces within the planting that people can use. It ignores the fact that we are creating a much nicer space that can be used by anyone for free. It ignores the fact that events are held at our micro-forests. At these events small local businesses peddle their products.

Modest garden for a family of 5

In 2021, I’d designed a modest garden for a family of five in Canberra on a 1200m2 block. The house and driveway took up 500m2. The garden design included water harvesting and dense planting. The total cost to build was $80,000. And this did not include my landscape design fees.

This project made me realise the public micro-forests represent remarkable value.

Public playground in Bungendore

Anther useful comparison is to look at the cost to build a playground. A playground completed in Bungendore, NSW in 2022cost $1.14 million. Although this playground has plenty of play opportunities it does nothing to tackle urban heat.

Micro-forests empower communities to tackle climate change

The Climate Factory’s micro-forest model draws community together. It gives hope and a sense of purpose. Further it empowers communities to make change at a neighbourhood scale. As each micro-forest grows it will reduce park temperatures, provide habitat and store carbon.

Shown below are the physical assets and the community assets. Typically community assets are harder to measure with numbers.

Physical assets

The physical assets are easy to measure and can be given a dollar figure. At the Downer Micro-forest over 2020-2021 we built:

  • 20 lineal metres of water harvesting trenches
  • 6 square metres of bog
  • 450m2 of shrub beds with enhanced soil
  • 1800 native plants
  • a recycled timber bench
The park at Downer prior to the micro-forest being built. January 2019.

Micro-forest assets

The Downer Micro-forest project has activated the local community. They now take pride in their local park. This has resulted in the:

  • Creation of the Downer Parkcare Group to maintain the micro-forest
  • 1 community consultation to give residents a say about changes to their park
  • 1 informal on-site consultation
  • 4 community working bees (all held during Covid19)
  • Additional working bees led by the Downer Parkcare group.

Micro-forest helps community connect

Just looking at the cost per square metre to build a micro-forest or tiny forest is too simple. This method ignores community wellbeing and connectedness. This is because wellbeing and connectedness are harder to measure in dollars and are often ignored.

However, the leader of the Downer Micro-forest Group, Amit Barkay provides a sense of how his community wellbeing has improved.

I like the fact that it brought the community together more than I envisaged, everyone coming to help, kids, young and old. And the fact that the place has changed in a matter of six months. To the point, that two weeks ago there was a couple who just came with a picnic table and glasses and a bottle of wine, to cuddle on the bench just over there. It was absolutely lovely.

Amit Barkay, Downer.
Amit Barkay, a local resident, maintains the Downer Micro-forest.

His neighbour, Leah Moore describes how the creation of a micro-forest or tiny forest has enhanced the Downer community. She talks about the physical and community changes that occurred. Leah says,

… there’s been a miraculous transformation. This park used to be quite bare of trees in the middle part here and through the drought got very dry and now we’ve got this flourish of growth and it’s very very green and our communities got behind it. So we’re all in this together. I like that too. I like interacting with my neighbours like that.

Leah Moore, Downer.

Micro-forests for the future

This project demonstrates a new way of regreening public spaces. Rather than competing for scarce grant money, our projects like the Downer, Watson, Holt and Moruya Micro-forests are funded via crowdfunding.

Micro-forest maintenance

All public landscape projects require some maintenance. Under The Climate Factory model the community commit to maintain the tiny forest for its first two years. The main job is hand weeding and disposal of weeds.

The micro-forest saves local authorities on mowing costs. By turning grass into garden beds, there is 450m2 less grass to mow.

A mother with her daughter helping plant the Downer Micro-forest.

Eight steps to build a community micro-forest

Since 2020, we’ve built three micro-forests in the ACT. And we will build a micro-forest in Moruya, NSW in 2023. It will be based on an endangered rainforest community. Plans are also underway for a Queanbeyan, NSW micro-forest.

Our vision is to create a micro-forest in every urban hotspot in Australia.

I created the eight step method to show others how to create a micro-forest or tiny forest. In fact, the method can be applied to almost any community revegetation project.

The 8 step method can be applied to any community regreening project. You could use this method to create a food forest or a pollinator garden, it doesn’t have to be a micro-forest – the principles and the stages are the same.


We’ve created a 54 minute video on the Eight Steps to make a climate-cooling micro-forest.

1 thought on “The value of a micro-forest”

  1. hidden costs – suggest maybe visualising these (e.g. the roots, hydrology, soil of the forest canopy?) – there are tools to quantify value /ROI if you need more facts. Suggest capture the stories and ask for some codification scale in the answers – sense making/meaning making approaches.

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