The International Certification Office of BioCon Valley, the Health Economy Cluster Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, has certified the first Healing Forest in Austria in the beginning of September. The certified forest area belongs to the Benedictine Abbey of Göttweig and covers 53 hectares of land. To prove a forest´s suitability for therapeutic purposes and to be recognised as a healing forest, a forest must meet special, defined standards. The idea and concept of healing forests has been significantly developed and implemented in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Depending on their location and nature, healing forests possess manifold potential for the prevention and treatment of diseases. Target groups are primarily people with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, diseases of the musculoskeletal system or with psychological impairments. Various studies suggest that therapies in the forest have a positive effect on mental and physical health. The prerequisite for certification as a healing forest is a near-natural, healthy forest with the best air quality, in which designated areas have been created for therapeutic applications and exercises with appropriate equipment. Furthermore, regular offers by specially trained forest therapists are essential, to which physiotherapists, occupational therapists and psycho-therapists can further qualify.
Austria's first healing forest belongs to the Benedictine Abbey of Göttweig, founded in 1083. It towers above the Danube valley, about 80 km west of Vienna. It has been a World Heritage site since 2000 and is run by a community of 40 monks. From the very beginning, the forest has played an important role for the abbey. For more than 900 years, the monks have been caring for and managing the approximately 5,000 hectares of forest. 53 hectares will be used as a healing forest in the future. One of its special features is that it is home to over 50 tree species from all over the world. In particular, the stand of sequoia trees is one of the largest in Europe. The main users of the healing forest will be patients of the neighbouring medical centre. Of course, the forest is also open to recreational athletes, tourists, people seeking recreation and religiously interested people.
The federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is a pioneer in the therapeutic and preventive use of forests. As early as 2011, the State Forest Law was amended accordingly and since then it has been possible to designate spa and healing forests by means of a declaration by the Ministry for Climate Protection, Agriculture, Rural Areas and the Environment. In 2017, the first spa and healing forest in Europe was created in Heringsdorf. This was followed in 2020 by the healing forests in Plau am See and in 2021 in Klink. The healing forests in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern also complement the health tourism offer in the state.
The standards and concepts that have been developed and implemented around the healing forests in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are also to be applied in other countries in Europe and the world. To this end, the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern commissioned BioCon Valley® in 2021 to set up and operate the International Certification Office for Healing Forest. BioCon Valley® has extensive expertise in this field and has been well networked in the international medicinal forest movement for many years.
The central task of the International Certification Office is to award an internationally valid certificate "Healing Forest" to interested forest owners worldwide. For this purpose, a standardised assessment process was developed and criteria for the qualification of forests as healing forests were defined. Based on a utilisation concept as well as a forest expertise and a medical-therapeutic expertise, forests are checked internationally and especially in Europe for their suitability to serve as healing forests. If a forest meets the requirements for a healing forest, the international certificate "Healing Forest" is awarded. Such an approach strengthens trust in the certified healing forests as well as in the quality of the therapeutic and preventive measures offered there. At the same time, this also contributes to supporting the health economy and health tourism in the respective countries and regions.
The International Certification Office for Healing Forests has established close cooperation with Austrian partners. Above all, the Federal Research Centre for Forests (BFW) and the IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems as well as the International Society for Forest Therapy (ISFT) should be mentioned here. Thanks to this intensive and trusting cooperation, the "Healing Forest" certificate was awarded for the first time in Austria to the Benedictine Abbey of Göttweig.