French-speaking Belgians see the forest as a sanctuary but know very little about it, according to a survey conducted among a representative sample of 1,006 individuals in Brussels and Wallonia.
The survey, done in June-October 2018, was commissioned by Société Royale le Cheval de Trait Ardennais, the organisation spearheading the Libramont Agricultural Fair. It updates a similar study done in 2005.
People in the two regions have a hazy knowledge of the forest: barely 25% have a precise idea of its size – 33% of Wallonia’s area – and only 10% said they could recognise more than 10 types of trees.
“The level of knowledge is not high,” said sociologist Daniel Bodson, the survey’s author. “It’s more about perceptions, myths and emotions, rather that knowledge.”
Close to one out of every two respondents said they went to the forest “at least once a month” and 23% said they went “once a week or at weekends”. The survey, whose results were presented on Thursday in Libramont, shows a “significant divide” based on socio-economic status and educational levels. Basically, the higher a person’s educational level, the more often he or she tended to visit the forest.
What do people do there? “Our contemporaries have a recreational relationship with the forest,” noted Bodson, since 89% of respondents cited activities such as strolling, jogging, hiking, cycling and horseback riding. Just 1.5% said they went into the forest to work.
Asked what the main function of the forest should be, most of the respondents mentioned air-quality regeneration (29%), preservation of nature (26%) or recreation and tourism (19%). On the other hand, few cited the traditional economic functions of the forest.
“What we’re seeing here is a conception of the forest as a refuge, a sanctuary, as a place that needs to be preserved,” the sociologist explained.
Where hunting is concerned, 58% of respondents found it necessary – more than in the 2005 survey – while 37” judged it “harmful and useless”.
Finally, 75% of respondents felt riding through the forest on motorised vehicles (quads, motorcycles etc) should be banned, while 46% felt cutting down trees should be prohibited completely. This percentage comes as a shock to actors in the Walloon wood sector, who stress that felled trees are replanted.
The Brussels Times