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There are new trees in town: lime trees and sycamores, their trunks only a few years old, supported by wooden scaffolding to help them against storms. Summer brings heat, and the trees dry up. The mayor of Milan plans to have 3 million trees in the city, versus the 400,000 there are now. The issue is how to water them. Cocoon is a biodegradable cardboard donut, consisting of a water deposit buried at the base of the tree that reduces the need for watering. The product is currently being tested. Jump to Turin. On the south bank of the Stura, where there once was a place of decay and degradation called Tossic Park, the first urban forest of the city has been born, inaugurated by Chiara Appendino last  June. With seven hundred trees and three hundred shrubs of thirty-two native species, typically found in the woods and the shores of the Piedmont plain, the area represents an experiment on the environmental advantages: the air quality and the health of the citizens brought by an urban forest. A local pilot area for monitoring carbon, ozone and dust absorption, but also for mitigating heat pockets in the city. Seventy of the seven hundred new plants were included in the Cocoon experiment. Piedmont is involved in a reforestation project, Urban Forestry, on four areas identified in collaboration with the Municipality of Turin: Parco Michelotti, Piazza Benefica, corso San Martino and Parco Stura.

The Cocoon experiment is part of the Green Link project and of the Land Life Company program in Amsterdam, which has developed a series of technological options to efficiently and sustainably reforest the two billion hectares of degraded land in the world where desertification, drought, forest fires or excessive farming have drained the soil. With projects in over twenty-five countries, LIFE the Green Link aims, with the use of Cocoon, to restore the areas of the Mediterranean coastline exposed to desertification by managing dry soils with adaptation measures that reduce vulnerability and strengthen the capacity for recovery of Mediterranean ecosystems.

The idea of replacing irrigation with water deposits to plant trees had already been tested by a previous LIFE project, The Green Deserts. The Green Link project wants to improve its methods in order to reduce production and implementation costs, making the technology viable for intense reforestation activities – and demonstrating the economic feasibility of a better and more sustainable technology for planting trees without the use of irrigation. The new project is aligned with the EU’s climate change adaptation policy objectives and is funded by it as part of the support of environmental projects and promotion of technologies for sustainable water management. Since 1992, LIFE has co-financed about 4,306 projects. Between 2014 and 2020, LIFE will contribute about € 3.4 billion to environmental and climate protection.

Cocoon‘s industrial technology allows trees and plants to grow in arid and adverse conditions, managing to sprout seeds from soil that is infertile and unfit for cultivation, revitalizing ecosystems and communities. It is designed to support a sapling during its critical first year, providing water and shelter during the stimulation of the seedling to form a healthy and deep root structure in order to exploit the underground water supply. Using technologies such as drones and satellite images to analyze the soil prior to planting and using the Cocoon technique and automated planting systems to optimize the reforestation approach, trees can be planted faster and using less water.

To use it, the first step is to dig a shallow pit, then drop a seedling into the hole and surround it with the Cocoon to ensure water will be stored for its first year – the most critical one. The Cocoon is filled with water and covered with a lid to prevent evaporation. The wicks inside the device transport the water from the tank to the roots of the plant. The drip system encourages the roots to grow deeper, helping them to exploit the humidity present in the subsoil. The last step is to slide a cylindrical shelter over the Cocoon, to protect the growing seedling from excessive exposure to the sun, wind and small creatures.

This method is ten times cheaper than traditional tree implantation, 100% biodegradable, and does not require irrigation or maintenance after planting. In areas where Cocoons have been used so far – such as Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Mexico, California – survival rates are between 80% and 95%, compared to 10% obtained by planting the seedlings manually. It improves its surrounding ecosystems, in particular by increasing biodiversity by at least 15% and promoting the positive growth of carbon stock in the soil over time. It also manages to map ecosystem services in test areas to demonstrate the potential for regional development and to provide data for climate change databases. Although the costs for each tree planted with Cocoon are higher, the water savings over time and the excellent results obtained justify the greater initial investment.

The Cocoon was used to reforest the natural area of the Angeles National Forest which was destroyed in 2009 by a fire that wiped out over 160,000 acres of pine trees. Also thanks to it, the Monarch Biosphere Reserve in the eastern part of the state of Michoacán was restored. UNHCR and Land Life Company have pledged to reforest 100 hectares of severely damaged land in Minawao, Cameroon. In collaboration with Shell, the Land Life Company recently announced the launch of a new reforestation project in the Spanish region of Castile and Leon that will help restore the land damaged by overexploitation and fires. The new forest will remove over 50,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere and increase biodiversity.

On Forestation

According to data by FAO, since 2008, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities, and this rate is expected to increase to 70% by 2050. Increasing the number of  forests and trees in cities around the world can help reduce pollution, absorb CO2, and use it as a fertilizer.

There are over four hundred and fifty thousand trees in Milan; the goal is to plant three million by 2030. “More trees for our children” is the campaign launched by Mellin during the recent World Environment Day, and its goal for environmental regeneration aims to have greener and more suitable cities to welcome families. In collaboration with AzzeroCO2, and as part of the government project “Adopt and Look After Public Green Spaces”, Mellin promised to dedicate the next three years to the enrichment of a ​​1400 square meter green area south of Milan, in front of San Paolo Hospital, with hundreds of trees to be planted. It is the first step in a wider project at a national level: to promote the creation of green spaces throughout the Italian territory by planting a tree for every fifty babies born in Italy. The Municipality of Bergamo has adopted the same policy – in the last five years, it has planted two trees for every child born or adopted in the city along the city’s avenues, parks and gardens.

The new frontier of urban forests are Forest Cities: small compact and green urban centers, made up of dozens of Vertical Forests, surrounded by trees, shrubs and flowering plants that graft the equivalent of two hectares of a real forest, based on the Vertical Woods project created by Stefano Boeri Architetti. After the two residential towers in Milan, standing 110 and 76 meters tall and housing eight hundred trees, the Fôret Blanche project was launched in Paris: the first 54-meter tower, with a wooden structure covered by four hundred trees – equivalent to one hectare of forest, – will be built in the eastern quadrant of the metropolitan area, in the Municipality of Villiers sur Marne. In Eindhoven, within a social housing project, the Trudo Vertical Forest will host one hundred and twenty-five rent-controlled apartments over nineteen floors. In the center of Utrecht, the Wonderwoods project aims to create a cohabitation between city and nature by hosting ten thousand plants of different varieties, the equivalent of one hectare of forest, helping to absorb 5.4 tons of CO2.

Trees are no longer ornamental but purifying. In addition to avenues, parks and gardens, they are on the facades of buildings – it is the distinctive trait of this new type of city. There’s two in China: in Shijiazhuang, which has the highest rate of air pollution in the country, the forest city will host one hundred thousand inhabitants and will represent a new model of urbanization that does not encroach on agricultural and natural land; Liuzhou Forest City will instead be the first autonomous zero-impact forest city, self-sufficient in terms of energy, and able to accommodate more than thirty thousand inhabitants surrounded by a million plants of more than a hundred different species (which will be able to absorb ten thousand tons of CO2 and fifty-seven thousand fine particles per year). The new green and wired city will be connected to Liuzhou via an express railway line and will house residential areas, commercial and recreational spaces, two schools and a hospital.

The ground floor of the Vertical Forest in Milan will be home to the Vertical Forest Hub, which will deal with the documentation and research on urban forestation in cities around the world and the monitoring of the other Vertical Forests being built. Studio Boeri also carries out the Verde Fiume (Green River) project, which aims to build a system of public forests, parks, orchards and gardens on 90% of Milan’s seven railway lines, linked together by green corridors and cycle paths built along disused railway lines.

Forests take up eleven million hectares of Italy’s land – 36.4% of the national surface, as stated by the “National Report on the state of forests and the forestry sector.” Since 1990, forests in Italy have grown by over one million hectares, to reach a total of over eleven million. The main reason behind this trend is dereliction, linked to socio-economic factors in rural areas, and migration to cities. What does the increase in eco-sustainable forests in Italy entail? They act as a reservoir of biodiversity, storing large quantities of atmospheric carbon which mitigates climate change, brings oxygen to critical areas, counteracts the presence of pollutants in the air and produces wood – a renewable raw material whose use would lead to a rise in employment opportunities in the forestry sector.

It bears protecting: in Italy, only 15.7% of forests are subject to planning, and only 9% have obtained an international guarantee of sustainability. ERSAF (the Regional Agency for Agriculture and Forestry Services) and the Lombardy Forest Consortium are committed to the development and promotion of the Lombardy forest sector, which spans a total of 620 thousand hectares – by enhancing its landscape and recreational value,  managing and improving mountain pastures, and the better exploitation of timber. ERSAF is also at the forefront of the maintenance of the Val di Mello, a Nature Reserve since January 2009 in the province of Sondrio and the largest protected area in Lombardy. In addition to regulating sustainable tourism, it is committed to the restoration of buildings in the mountain pastures and the protection of pastures in a project that consists of an investment of 400,000 euros, of which forty thousand are destined for the rehabilitation and maintenance of the walking path.

ERSAF manages the Regional Forest Nursery in Curno, in the province of Bergamo, which deals with forest and landscape redevelopment with the creation of local native forest plants. It collects seeds from Lombard territory, preserves them, cultivates about seventy tree and shrub species, and produces three hundred thousand native plants, which it then distributes. The objective is to develop and maintain green area systems, promote biodiversity, and species relocation.

Furniture manufacturers and artisans are called upon to use Italian wood responsibly (the Italian wood industry is the first in Europe). According to Coldiretti, our forests, if restored, could become not only a natural reservoir for carbon absorption, but also an investment tool in the growth of production within the sector: thirty-five thousand new jobs could be created following the increase of timber harvesting in forests – which today cover an area of 10.9 hectares (a number which has doubled since the unification of Italy, when they covered just 5.6 million hectares).

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