It was raining cats and dogs when I arrived at Schaan-Vaduz Youth Hostel in Liechtenstein on 28 April. This was where I had come to meet nine motivated people who had spent a week volunteering with the Swiss Youth Hostels Mountain Forest Project that has been launched to mark the organisation’s 100th anniversary. Today is the last day. The atmosphere is good and the group is still highly motivated after the previous days of hard work.
Arriving punctually at 7.45 am, the Mountain Forest Project manager Andri calls the group together. I can’t wait to see what they’ve been up to.
On the way, we stop briefly to pick up piles of wood and tools at the forester’s lodge. Over the past four days, the participants have cleared a large area of forest and removed lots of branches. Planting ash and maple trees is on today’s agenda. I’m excited to have the chance to plant a tree myself. Andri guides me through the process. It’s more strenuous than I thought, especially because I first have to hack out a hole in the overgrown terrain. This isn’t such an easy task for a desk jockey like me! 😉
As they grow so quickly, large numbers of fir trees were planted to supply the demand created by major European wars. This resulted in an unfavourable monoculture. The trees end up competing with each other and then stop growing. But these are not the only problems that alpine forests are struggling with. Drought, storms and pest infestations are becoming more pervasive year on year.
Working for the mountain forest to benefit all
The nine participants come from France, Germany and Switzerland, and are aged between 19 and 69. During lunch in the forester’s lodge (it is still pouring down outside), you can feel how close the group has become even after this short time – friendships have been formed.
Some of the participants are here for the first time and some take part in a mountain forest project every year. But they all share the same mission: to do something good for the community and to protect the cultural landscape of the alpine region through voluntary work. Unfortunately, it is not possible to conserve and maintain the mountain forest in a cost-effective manner, which is why the Mountain Forest Project Foundation has set itself the goal of doing just that.
Fantastic enrichment opportunities
We will finish the work this Friday a little earlier than usual. Once the tools have been cleaned, we head back to the hostel. We’re completely soaked, so everyone is glad to take their turn under a hot shower.
What did I take away from that day? I found it incredibly enriching to be outdoors and to get involved myself. Despite the bad weather, it was kind of idyllic. It warmed my heart to see how close and well-acquainted the participants seemed after just five days.