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Recreational Benefits of the Forests in the City of Zurich



As multifaceted natural and recreational areas the forests in the city of Zurich make a decisive contribution to the quality of life there. But what does this really mean? What is the value of Zurich’s forests for the recreation of the inhabitants? Which are the important motives behind forest visits? For which reasons do some people not visit the forests? These and other questions were explored with respect to the following aims:

  1. Information on visiting behaviour and forest visitors’ needs is required to support forest management decisions and contribute to answering the question of an optimal provision of recreational services in the forests.
  2. The economic valuation of recreational benefits of the forests allows the expression of individual and societal values in monetary terms. These values can be included in financial and socio-political debates and therefore establish a basis for policy decisions.
  3. Extensions of economic valuation models and investigations on estimating recreational values with on-site data contribute to advances in environmental economic valuation.


Recreational values of the urban forests were assessed with the Contingent Valuation Method (CVM) and with the Travel Cost Method (TCM). The data on valuation and recreational uses of the forests came from two surveys carried out in November 2004. Firstly, 558 randomly chosen residents of Zurich were questioned in an off-site mail survey. Secondly, 1530 forest visitors filled out a questionnaire in an on-site survey at ten different sites in the forests.

In both surveys the questionnaire covered the following topics: forest visiting behaviour, trip to the forest and forest visitors’ socio-economic characteristics. Furthermore, a hypothetical scenario was described for the assessment of recreational values with the CVM. The scenario proposed that visitors had to buy an annual permit that would allow them to visit the forests within the city area. Willingness to pay for such a permit provided a measure of the recreational value of the forests. Finally, attitudes and other ‘psychological variables’ were assessed in order to extend valuation models following the theory of planned behaviour.

Questionnaires (Download, in german):


Most inhabitants of Zurich use their forests for recreational activities. About 88% of the respondents have visited the urban forests at least once during the past 12 months. The main reasons for not visiting the forests are lack of time or limited mobility. Therefore, non-visitors of the forests also showed lower visit frequencies for other green spaces within the city than forest visitors. The relevance of the forests as a natural area was expressed by a high valuation of the motives ‘good and fresh air’, ‘being in nature’ and ‘tranquility’. Additionally, ‘exercise and fitness’ proved to be another important motivation for forest visits.

The monetary value of recreational benefits of the urban forests with the CVM shows that on average, forest visitors value the use of Zurich’s forests for recreational activities at 110 Swiss Francs per person per year. This amount was extrapolated to the residents of Zurich visiting the forests within the city limits at least once a year. Consequently, the recreational benefits of Zurich’s city forests were estimated at 30 million Swiss Francs per year.

Comparisons between valuation results obtained from different studies have to take into account the study context and the methodical approach and direct comparisons are thus seldom possible. Because of a congruent methodical approach the study on urban forests in Zurich can be compared with a previous study assessing recreational values of the urban forests in Hamburg. The analysis shows that forest visitors in Zurich and Hamburg place similar value in the recreational benefits of their urban forests. This result suggests that individual recreational values of urban forests, assessed in an urban area, can be transferred to other urban forests. However, extrapolations of these values onto forests in non-urban regions are not possible as urban forests have a special status and they also form the greatest part of public green spaces in the urban areas investigated.

The impact of different factors on forest visitors’ willingness to pay was analyzed in two steps. Firstly, we assessed which variables affect the acceptance of the hypothetical scenario. Socio-economic and forest visiting characteristics show no significant influence. On the other hand, the explanation and interpretation of the so-called protest votes can be improved by extending the models following the theory of planned behaviour. Secondly, the amount forest visitors would pay for a visitor permit was examined. This amount is determined mainly by socio-economic and forest visiting variables which showed no significant impact on protest votes in the first step of the analysis. Consequently, protest votes can be removed from the database for the estimation of mean willingness to pay.

Data from on-site surveys can be biased because of unequal selection probabilities. For example, the sampling probability depends on forest visit frequencies. Reducing this systematic bias by weighting the data according to selection probabilities is advisable if these probabilities are correlated with the investigated parameters. However, theoretical and empirical analyses show that weighting the data increases the variance of the estimates. Therefore, on-site surveys have to be based on larger samples than off-site random surveys to achieve the same confidence level.



  • Bernath, K.; Roschewitz, A. (2007): Recreational benefits of urban forests: Explaining visitors’ willingness to pay in the context of the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Environmental Management. PDF

  • Bernath, K.; Elsasser, P.; Roschewitz, A. (2007): Reduktion systematischer und zufallsbedingter Fehler in Zielgebietsdaten: Theorie und empirische Ergebnisse einer Waldbesucherbefragung in Zürich.Allgemeine Forst- und Jagdzeitung. Zeitschrift für Forstwirtschaft und Forstwissenschaft, 178 (5/6): 109-120. PDF

  • Bernath, K.; Roschewitz, A.; Studhalter, S. (2006). Die Wälder der Stadt Zürich als Erholungsraum: Besuchsverhalten der Stadtbevölkerung und Bewertung der Walderholung. Eidg. Forschungsanstalt für Wald, Schnee und Landschaft (WSL), Zürich.  PDF
  • Bernath, K.; Roschewitz, A. (2006). Wie wertvoll ist der Zürcher Wald für die Erholung der Stadtbevölkerung? Natur und Mensch 5/2006: 12-17. PDF