Plants with tree guards, surrounded by mown grass and recycled timber bench

The value of a micro-forest

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

From a simple accounting point of view, the answer is $500 per square metre. This figure is based on a $40,000 budget and an area of 800 square metres for the Downer pilot project.

However, the value of a community micro-forest can’t be measured solely in dollars spent. It’s value is far higher than its physical assets.

The micro-forest model draws community together with a sense of purpose and empowers them to make change at a neighbourhood scale. As it grows, the micro-forest will store carbon, reduce park temperatures and provide habitat. These can be valued using the System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA).

Shown below are the physical assets separated from the community assets.

Physical assets

The physical assets built over 2020-2021 were:

  • 26 lineal metres of water harvesting trenches
  • 6 square metres of bog
  • 450m2 of shrub beds with enhanced soil planted
  • 1800 native plants
  • Recycled timber bench
The Cole St, Downer park in 2019 prior to building the community micro-forest.

Community assets

The project has activated the local community to take pride in their local park and has resulted in the:

  • Creation of the Downer Parkcare Group
  • 1 formal Community consultation to ensure residents had a say about the future of their local park
  • 1 informal on-site consultation to approve the Landscape Sketch Plan
  • 4 community working bees (all held during Covid19)
  • Additional working bees led by the Downer Parkcare group.

Looking at the cost per square metre doesn’t take into account improvements in community well-being and connectedness. Amit Barkay, volunteer leader of the Downer Parkcare group says,

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, volunteer leader of the Downer Parkcare group.

His neighbour, Leah Moore adds,

… 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.

Other future benefits (not currently costed) include climate cooling and a reduction in associated energy costs, carbon capture and enhanced biodiversity.

Blue-print for future park development

At the first community consultation locals identified the three most important criteria to be incorporated into the park landscape plan. These were: habitat provision, water harvesting and nature-based play.

In response, The Climate Factory created a Landscape Sketch Plan for the park with the first stage delivered over 2020-21. Nature play elements, like timber bridges, timber logs and ‘cubbies’ were included in stage 2 of the Landscape Plan. Now the community has the opportunity to raise funds to install these elements.

A model for the future

This project demonstrates a new way of regreening public spaces. Rather than competing for government grant money with many other community groups and relying on government timing (often once per year) – projects can be funded via crowdfunding when a community group is ready.

Inspiring others

As well as building a pilot demonstration project that can be replicated, The Climate Factory runs online workshops to teach people about the 8 steps to create a micro-forest. Founder of The Climate Factory, Edwina Robinson says:

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.

EDWINA ROBINSON, FOUNDER, THE CLIMATE FACTORY

When participants enrol for the workshop they receive a 46 page Draft Handbook on the 8 steps to create a micro-forest.

Future income/expenses

Any public asset has future costs associated with its maintenance. However, labour to maintain the space is providing by community volunteers during the first two years of the project. Overall the cost to maintain the micro-forest is low.

  • Voluntary labour from Downer Parkcare conservation group (currently costed by ACT Government around $41/hour) for weeding, mulching and light pruning.
  • Reduction in mowing costs to ACT Government – 450m2 less grass to mow
  • Supply of mulch – currently supplied by the ACT Government for free, and
  • Tree removal – trees are only removed if they pose a risk to the public.