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12/2020: Outreach activities in Austria: Dissemination and communication from a Public Health perspective

Blog by: Dr. Daniela Haluza

In the Dr. FOREST project, our aim is to study the effects and underlying mechanisms of the temperate forests tree diversity on human health and well-being. Besides the experimental work, we also strive to engage relevant stakeholders to refine research questions and to formulate management guidelines for health policy and forest administration to better combine biodiversity conservation with ecosystem management that supports human health and well-being. These outreach activities are a major pillar in our research project to ensure a sustainable societal impact of our findings, particularly from a Public Health perspective.

The Dr. FOREST project held its kick-off meeting in February of this year in the lovely old German university city of Freiburg im Breisgau, just days before it was hit by the first COVID-19 cases, and the associated panic buying, of, e.g. toilet paper. Today, the rest of the story is well-known: application of very restrictive preventive interventions including social distancing, wearing of protective masks, hand hygiene, travel restrictions, homeschooling, and home working. Notably, the restrictions not only affected spring-time activities of the planned fieldwork, but also our planned outreach activities.

The United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Forests, which promotes the importance of forests and trees in our lives, was celebrated on March 21 this year, just when much of Europe had entered the first lock down. First celebrated in 2013, the Day of Forests addresses issues such as deforestation. On the part of the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, we planned to use this global observance as a teaser to promote the current research activities of our environmental health research team at the Center for Public Health, mainly highlighting the ongoing Dr. FOREST project and the positive effects of being in nature.

Unfortunately, the virus pandemic thwarted this plan: the public relations department postponed the ready-to-print press release to avoid conflict of interest with the outdoor/travel restrictions. The press release was then finally published both in German and in an English translation, although too late for connecting our research to the International Day of Forests this year.

But all is well that ends well. The resonance on the press release in Austria was very positive, with immense interest expressed by the media and public organizations. Dr. FOREST was also presented at other venues and events, such as Hofburg Vienna, Children´s University Vienna, International Forest Therapy Days 2020, Annual Meeting of German Association for Forest Bathing etc.

In sum, the public interest in forest diversity and health in Austria has grown immensely; especially the current hype on forest bathing has proven to be a good starting point for connecting science and laypeople. Also, first results of the Dr. FOREST project are eagerly awaited and could hopefully be disseminated on International Day of Forests in 2021!

A short list of media coverage of Dr. FOREST:

YouTube Video, Waldbaden, September 29, 2020

Press release Forest diversity in English, May 4, 2020

Kronen Zeitung; Waldluft beugt auch Asthma vor, May 7, 2020

Kinderuni online MedUniWien 2020, July 1, 2020

Die Presse; Die Entmystifizierung des Waldes, June 6, 2020

Uniqua Blog Carpe Diem; Der Wald: Arzt und Alleskönner? May 13, 2020

ÄrzteWoche; Waldbaden: Bei meiner Borke! August 17, 2020

Wiener Städtische Versicherung Blog  impuls wissen:  Alles so schön grün hier.  September 29, 2020