A mature oak tree has from 100,000 to 250,000 leaves in any given year. During their lives leaves diligently convert sunlight into sugars, filter carbon and oxygenate air while sending nutrients to branches and trunks down into the earth—which is then made cooler and stronger. At the end of their lifespan they enrich and create new earth. This is all done efficiently as each leaf responds to signals from their tree and the forest community—without a single word spoken. Since trees inspire so many words it is a wonder they are not more appreciated and protected for the everyday miracles they perform.
On March 21 winners of the European Tree of the Year competition will be announced. This competition generates appreciation for the cultural, environmental and social benefits of trees. Winners are selected by public voting taking place online in February.
Croatia’s 2023 entry is a many centuries old oak. Though most trees nominated for the competition have a name this one doesn’t. It is one of the many oaks that grow in the Drežnica karst field near Ogulin. This field becomes a lake in the spring and fall so that water rises to cover significant portions of tree trunks. Forested areas around villages, towns and cities create green belts that shelter stressed out species.
March 21 is the UN International Day of Forests and first day of Spring.
Maksimir Forest Park is one of EU’s oldest public parks. Prior to the park’s opening in 1798 the area was a dense forest of hornbeam and oak. This forest was felled to create the 1,005 acre park located about 20 minutes north of Zagreb’s city center. Maksimir’s impressive green canopy shades peaceful walking and hiking paths, a promenade, gardens, zoo, pavilions and five man-made lakes. In recent years Maksimir has become a tourist attraction for visitors to Zagreb. Trails have been upgraded with markers to help Croatian and foreign tourists wayfind. The International Scientific Journal Turizam published research in 2012 using SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities, threats) surveys to analyze the value of Makismir’s resources. Researchers supported by the faculty of Tourism and Hospitality Management in Opatija surveyed 120 park visitors.
Nearby Maksimir is Medvednica Nature Park, sited on Zagreb’s north border. The park’s most striking feature is Medvednica Mountain which is in plain view from Zagreb’s upper town. Also called ‘Bear mountain (Medved means bear), the name refers to the area’s former brown bear inhabitants/residents. Forested trails leading up to Slijeme—the peak of Medvednica Mountain have been popular with hikers for over a century. Beech trees are the hallmark of this forest. In the 1980s extreme winters damaged Medvednica’s beech forests. To mediate the impact of climate change today Medvednica is one of Croatia’s 400 areas designated to protect bio-diversity. Forest Park Tuškanac is a another peaceful forest park tucked into the foothills of Mount Medvednica. Nestled among trees are historic summer villas and an open-air stage. Anthropologist and award winning author Andra Pisac’s 2023 insider piece shows ways to enjoy Medvednica’s many pleasures.
According to countless sources (UN, World Bank, FISE – Forest Information System for Europe, Global Forest Watch) about 35% of Croatia is forested. (In March 2022 Croatia’s Ministry of Agriculture reported that forests and forest land cover 2.76 million hectares or 48.7% of Croatia’s land area.) Complex forest ecosystems cover about third of the earth’s surface
To assess the health of forests, Croatian ecologists and forest researchers have been using satellite captures and ground data collection. Recent studies promote philosophies of harmonious, right relationships between humans and forests. A 3 year study of Zagreb’s green canopy cites restorative aspects of mutual dependencies echoed in Forest Management and Ecology research coming done by Croatian and Slovenian Universities.
Monitoring and restoration efforts are more effective when they combine technology to create positive interactions between people and the earth. The BORANKA project was developed and implemented with the Scouts under the supervision of Dan Spičer help address drought induced forest fires that devastated the area around Split in the 2000s. Seed scattering drones help replant trees, but hands-on field work especially with youth makes these projects work.
Epiphanies are defined as a moment in a person’s life when their path becomes clear. Filmmaker Dalibor Platenik A Man and a Tree document’s Vladimir Joda’s epiphany in 1985 when he was inspired to plant trees in Zagreb’s city parks—without permission from the local authorities. He mostly plants, waters and tends trees in the dark or very early in the morning. In recent years Vladimir wears city service workers uniforms to maintain his invisiblity. He visits his trees regularly and is proud of his actions, taking his authority from a higher power.
Vladimir Joda lives in an apartment that overlooks a park. Birdsong is his summer 4:30am morning wake up alarm. Vladimir moves about the city with 5 to 10 gallon plastic containers he uses to water drought affected trees. Vladimir connects caring for trees to caring for all life forms—he began planting trees when his own children were young. For many years Vladimir worked in a raliroad shunting yard where, after hours he planted 146 trees. He purchases young trees selected specifically for each site at one of several local garden centers, budgeting $30 -$40 per seedling and some type soil enrichment out of his own pocket. As of 2019 Vladimir planted 450 trees.
How can humans better fit into landscapes? Create healthy relationships with trees, forests and more than human life? Hrvatske Šume was founded in 1991 to help protect bio-diversity of Croatian forests and forested land along with networked European Institutes including the Croatian Forest Institute which seeks to integrate sometimes competing agendas and interests.https://www.hrsume.hr/ and https://www.sumins.hr/en/
A series of interviews with Vladimir’s long-time friends reveals the strength of his beliefs. He organizes planting parties but does not elaborate—maybe to protect those involved. He isn’t interested in being an influencer, his purpose is to fulfill his responsibility to the earth. At nearly 70 years old the work is becoming more difficult for him but Vladimir is determined to continue and to spread his philosophy. Vladimir’s work improves the lives of many, but can his solo endeavors compensate for careless public behavior and negligence?
CO2MPENSATING BY PLANTING is a new program specifically designed to compensate for CO2 emissions by planting trees. Organised with the Croatian Scouts Association, Croatian Forests HEARTH and the new high school Šumoborci (Forest Fighters) these are innovative responses to the consequences of climate change. CO2MPENSATING is the first program of its kind in Croatia, but also in the entire EU region. It promotes intergenerational engagement and follows in the footsteps of the BORANKA project’s success. Many of the initiatives and right actions are supported under the umbrella of Natura 2000, a network of 27,800 sites in 28 countries. Natura 2000’s purpose is to protect valuable, threatened species and habitats. It is the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world.
This post is inspired youth volunteers, Vladimir Joda’s story and research done by Andrija Krtalić (University of Zagreb, Geodesy) , Dario Linardić (Geodetic Institute, Rijeka) and Renata Pernar (University of Zagreb, Forestry) ‘Framework for Spatial and Temporal Monitoring of Urban Forest and Vegetation Conditions: Case Study Zagreb, Croatia,’ published 27 May 2021 in Sustainabilty Journal, and ‘Evaluation of Forest Edge Structure and Stability in Peri-Urban Forests’ by David Hladnik, Andrej Kobler and Janez Pirnat, Forests, 18 March 2020 Slovenian Forestry Institute, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia.
SOURCES, INFO and IMAGES
‘Croatia’s seed-scattering drones replant forests hurt by fire,’ Reuters, 11/21 https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/croatias-seed-scattering-drones-replant-forests-hurt-by-fire-2021-11-17/
CO2MPENSATING BY PLANTING https://project-o2.org
Natura 2000 https://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/natura2000/awards/news/archives/2014/01/news_20140203_02_en.htm
Douglas W. Tallamy, Nature’s Best Hope, a New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard, 2020 Timber Press, Portland, OR
Quercus Rober Oak leaf, Wikimedia
250 year old Oak Tree in Drženica Polje near Ogulin, the birthplace of the Croatian fairytale author Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić and partisan stronghold during WW2. https://www.treeoftheyear.org/vote/the-oak-from-dreznica-field
Maksimir Forest Park in 1920, Total Croatia News https://www.total-croatia-news.com/zagreb-blog/18848-zagreb-in-history-maksimir-park-at-the-turn-of-the-century
Medvednica Nature Park, Andrea Pisac https://travelhonestly.com/zagreb-parks-medvednica/
Corine Map, European Environment Agency https://www.eea.europa.eu/help/faq/what-is-corine-land-cover
Vladimir Dimić Joda, A Man and A Tree by filmmaker Dalibor Platenik https://havc.hr/eng/croatian-film/croatian-film-catalogue/a-man-and-a-tree