Little Forests make a big impact

By Michelle Dorey Forestell — This article originally appeared in The Kingston Local in April 2021

Four new forests will be popping up in Kingston in October and that’s a good thing. “We are planting Little Forests of diverse trees and shrubs indigenous to this land and seed zone,” explained Master Gardener, Joyce Hostyn.

“This area was at 90% forest before colonization and we cut down the forests, and now we have very little forest cover left in the City of Kingston, only 17 to 25 percent of our forest remains in our area,” said Hostyn.

According to the Kingston Little Forests website, “Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history. Climate change has driven widespread declines in bumblebee and other native bee populations. Nearly 3 billion (29%)  birds gone since 1970. Over half of the 690 species of conservation concern in Ontario use habitat in southern Ontario forests.” 

“Old science thought only 10% forest cover was required to support,” Hostyn said, “For supporting biodiversity, for supporting all the species, they now know that we need around 50% forest cover.”  

Hostyn explains “biodiversity, as the relationships of all species. That’s one of Kingston Little Forests’ most important motivators. This is some direct action that people can do. But for us it’s more about restoring relationships with the land with all the other species that live here with kind of as humans kind of forgotten about.  Everything affects everything else.”

Towns and cities have traditionally done uniform planting of solo trees in widely spaced rows rather than layered forest. “We, in our cities don’t really think about that even when we’re landscaping our homes, that it’s not just for us, it’s for the birds it’s for the insects, it’s for the pollinators it’s for everybody. We thought about trees as like solo objects, not as community beings that actually prefer to live together.”

“Tree planting alone doesn’t invite biodiversity” explained Hostyn, “Forests are complex multilayer plant communities. Forests are webs of relationships between plants, animals, fungi, birds, insects, bacteria and humans. Forests are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity.”

Hostyn and her partners will be using the method developed by a Japanese expert in botany and forest ecology, Dr. Akira Miyawaki. His signature method for growing naturally biodiverse forests that can outgrow and outlast “monoculture forests” which are single species tree plantings.

“In Japan, they cut down most of their forests, and when they replanted,  like here, they did a lot of monoculture planting, which then got attacked by pests and disease. And so he’s discovered how we can speed up natural succession with natural succession. It can take 115 years for a forest to return naturally.  But in this method, you plant three species per square meter,” and this encourages faster growth because the species actually grow faster to compete for the sun.

“It’s a mix of cooperation and competition that speeds up their growth so they grow much faster than when planted on their own,” she said.

Hostyn explained how they are using 100% indigenous species to create a multi-layered forest, “And this type of planning also helps the soil return, like all the soil is like a whole complex ecosystem as well, right more, just as much or more life than above that species. So, with adding wood chips, with adding compost, adding a little bit of forest soil to introduce some of that soil life at the extreme diversity of underground soil life in the forests.”

“We need to rethink what landscape is, and get out of this notion of trees in rows with grass, we start seeing that they’re community beings.”  She explained, “In planting Little Forests we help the land remember. We invite home the many Indigenous species we’ve lost since colonization. We grow our relationships with the other-than-human world.”

You can help support Kingston Little Forests buy seedlings they need by visiting their gofund me

You can learn more about planting your own little forest or how to get involved with the ones under way by visiting

Watch Earth Breath 

Little Forest Walking the Path to Peace

We will build our capacity to care for the land by offering an Indigenous environmental education workshop series consistent with Indigenous pedagogical practice. This will be a series of teaching/sharing circles that explore Indigenous ways of knowing rooted in the place we live. The Little Forest will be a space for ceremonial practice, learning our languages and sharing a holistic understanding of the forest ecosystem—our kin relations.

– 600 Indigenous trees and shrubs

– 39 species

Little Forest Kingston Secondary School

At Kingston Secondary School, we want to plant a Little Forest outdoor classroom and pollinator garden to build a relationship between the natural world and our urban students. We’ll learn about biodiversity, climate change and Indigenous science as we nurture our Little Forest to maturity.

– 300 Indigenous trees and shrubs

– 42 species

Little Forest Lakeside

We will build our capacity to care for the land and our community by cultivating an edible nut forest. We will combine what we’re learning from Western science about rapid natural forest regeneration with teachings from Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) on how to transform our relationship with trees and with the land. The Little Nut Forest at Lakeside will be a space for cultivating a holistic understanding of an Indigenous edible forest ecosystem and learning about nature-based solutions to our biodiversity and climate crises. 

– 600 Indigenous trees and shrubs

– 49 species

Watch the Earth breathe:

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