Healthy, sustainable forests are vital to Europe’s economic and environmental well-being, and it is regions that must play a leading role in developing new management strategies, a new EU-funded project reveals.
RoK-FOR, a project funded by the FP7 Regions of Knowledge (ROK) programme, aims to create a true 'region of knowledge’ in the forestry sector in order to encourage the sustainable use of natural resources, renewable energy, sustainable construction materials and bio-based products across Europe.
The project involves encouraging the co-operation of five regional research-driven clusters from six European countries: Germany (Baden-Württemberg); Finland (North Karelia); Spain (Catalonia), and the cross-border clusters from Croatia-Serbia and France-Spain (Aquitaine-Basque). The aim is to share forest product and service innovations, and to demonstrate how regional forestry strategies can have positive impacts on other policy areas.
Outlining the future for forestry
To date, RoK-FOR has enabled project partners to share good practice and know-how and to learn from each other. North Karelia in Finland, for example, has a highly developed forest-based bio-energy cluster, while Aquitaine is a recognised centre of expertise for companies working with wood. Baden-Württemberg has a very highly developed forest cluster.
“This ‘cross-fertilisation’ across sectors using wood-based solutions has already opened up new research and development initiatives,” says RoK-FOR Coordinator Dr Timo J. Hokkanen from the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment for North Karelia. “For example, by connecting sustainable construction with energy generation using forest-based resources, such as residues from woodworking industries, and connecting R&D in this sector with regional strategies and priorities.”
The project started by investigating the R&D capacities, policy instruments and strategies in each of the regions, before defining common priorities for a Joint Action Plan across the participating clusters. Workshops were arranged in order to link up the RoK-FOR network with other international projects and networks.
According to Hokkanen, a major success of the project has been to unleash the potential of the partners. “There is excellent spirit within the project, with lots of expertise and contact-building,” he acknowledges. “We are proud of the work done so far, and the spirit is high to take the necessary next steps and to think beyond the project timeline.”
The involvement of clusters in defining strategic priorities for regional development has been emphasised throughout the RoK-FOR project. Even though there is no European Union forestry policy as such, several other sector policies are directly impacted by forestry, such as renewable energy, climate-change mitigation and adaptation, and nature protection.
“The RoK-FOR project’s participating regions illustrate concrete examples of what kind of challenges and opportunities there are for forest sector development at regional level,” says Hokkanen. “For example, how to achieve sustainable resource supplies for the demands defined by renewable energy targets, or how to promote wood-based solutions for a sustainable construction sector.”
Another objective of RoK-FOR has been to translate EU policy targets at the regional level, and to increase awareness of the need to develop forest sector strategies in different parts of Europe. “In line with green public procurement, forest certification could be accepted as additional criteria for the sustainability of raw materials, but in practice forest ownership structures vary considerable from country to country and from region to region,” explains Hokkanen.
“In short, a lot of ground work has already been done in the participating regions, and what RoK-FOR brings as an added value is the possibility to share this with wider audiences – also at European level – and to develop new solutions through international co-operation.
“However, we still have some work to do. For us, success will be measured by how many companies we succeed in involving in our activities; we need businesses to participate, and that is the real challenge and measure of success.”