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Geocache in a forest.

Collecting forest experience research data through playing

Two research trails utilizing location-based game have been opened up in Pirkanmaa forests. The UNITE Geotrail research project of the University of Eastern Finland collects information on people's forest experiences and preferences and tests a method for collecting research data based on mobile technology and gameplay using geocaches.

The UNITE Geotrail research team includes doctoral researcher Philip Chambers who studies forestry-related gamification, project researcher Tuulikki Halla who studies people's forest relationships and forest experiences, and postdoctoral researcher Harri Silvennoinen who studies environmental values and the recreational use of forests and nature.

The project’s first two geocaching trails were opened earlier in North Karelia. In this second phase, the research trail network has been expanded to Western Finland. In Pirkanmaa, two new trails have been opened near Tampere, in Hervanta, and in Seitseminen National Park, in Ylöjärvi and Ikaalinen municipalities. 

Each research trail contains 6–11 geocaches. With each geocache, it is possible to answer research questions about the surrounding environment and gameplay in Finnish or in English. Participating in the study is completely voluntary, as it is possible to find the caches without participating, although all submitted answers are valuable.

"The study examines how people’s experiences can vary in different, and differently managed, forest environments. The research data will help us to understand how people experience these environments and react to changes in them," says Tuulikki Halla from the School of Forest Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland.

"In forest planning, it is important to reconcile different perspectives, and technological developments, like gamification, provide novel and cost-effective ways to reach people and map their relationships with the forests they visit. In this study, we are testing one method that utilises the location-based game, geocaching," says Philip Chambers from the School of Forest Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland and the Gamification Group at Tampere University.

The UNITE Geotrail research project is part of the Academy of Finland's UNITE flagship which is exploring the interaction between forests, people, and machines. The project is coordinated by the School of Forest Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland, and it also involves researchers from Gamification Group which is affiliated with the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication Sciences at Tampere University.

The research project has been carried out in close cooperation with the Geocaching Association of Finland Geonautit ry, a member of the Finnish Outdoor Association Suomen Latu. The trails in Pirkanmaa have been planned together with the landowners Metsähallitus and the City of Tampere.

Geocaching is a popular hobby worldwide. Millions of geocaches have been hidden in 190 different countries. Geocaches are searched for by using the Geocaching application that you download to your phone or GPS device. In Finland, there are tens of thousands of geocaching enthusiasts.

As the trails circulate in nature conservation areas, it is important for people to act responsibly, and not disturb the environment and nature while playing.

More information:

Philip Chambers, Doctoral researcher, philip.chambers(at), tel. +358 50 430 5421

Tuulikki Halla, Project researcher, tuulikki.halla(at), tel. +358 40 7373 904