Empowering Children to Protect the Environment: The Story of Eklunden, Sweden

Elizabeth Olsson and Aurora Olsson (age seven) | 6 October 2021


A collage of four photographs depicting 1) Aurora touring Eklunden with four adults. They are walking and we can see them from the back; 2) children featured on the front page of Kungälvs-Posten. The children stand in the forest holding hands; 3) Aurora’s drawing to save the forest which depicts two scenarios, one where the forest is destroyed and she is crying and another one with a big tree with a bird and her standing beside it with a smile; 4) a piece of fabric tied around a tree that says, “Save Eklunden” (in Swedish). The photographs are used with permission.
A collage of four photographs depicting 1) Aurora touring Eklunden with four adults; 2) children featured on the front page of Kungälvs-Posten; 3) Aurora’s drawing to save the forest; 4) a piece of fabric tied around a tree that says, “Save Eklunden” (in Swedish). The photographs are used with permission.

“The forest is my happy place, the best place there is,” Aurora confides to a reporter for the local newspaper, Kungälvs-Posten. “I want Kungälv Municipality […] to think about the climate and our future and leave the forest alone,” she continues. Aurora is a seven-year-old resident of Ytterby, a town in Kungälv Municipality, Sweden. She is talking to the reporter in her struggle to save Eklunden, a small forest near her home. But Aurora is not alone. She is one of many local children fighting to save the forest. Some children have drawn pictures depicting their love for the forest; others have collected signatures on a petition demanding the local government stop plans for deforestation; at least one child has taken to social media to champion the cause. While numerous local residents have worked to raise awareness and maintain the forest, this post documents the perspectives of the children who demanded their right to democratic participation. Aurora co-authors the post to highlight her experience as a caretaker of the environment. In doing so, she hopes to empower other children to “speak their passion.”


The Children’s Forest

Eklunden is located in Ytterby, Kungälv Municipality—25 kilometers outside of Gothenburg. The forest borders train tracks, an industrial area, and a residential community. Locals use the forest to walk, run, pick berries and mushrooms, and sled in the wintertime. The popularity of the forest spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic as residents went outdoors to find respite from the stresses of everyday life.


While residents of all ages use the forest, it has a special connection to children. As written on a small plaque near a walking path, Year 7 students planted [sections of] the forest in 1955. Today, all schools in the area—from preschool to middle school—regularly bring students to Eklunden for outdoor lessons. According to Aurora, “Eklunden is our classroom. We go there to learn, play, and spend time in nature.” The forest is so closely integrated into the community that many children consider it an extension of their homes and schools.


Clearing Begins and the Community Scrambles to Stop It

On 9 September 2021, Bokab AB, a municipally-owned real-estate development company, began clearing the forest to build industrial workspaces. Bokab did not inform the community that they would do this, and when residents discovered workers with chainsaws and an excavator in their beloved forest, many sprang to action.


Eva West—a resident who fought to save the forest from industrial development in 2016—frantically called municipal politicians and the local newspaper. West told Kungälvs-Posten, “I was shocked [when I came across Bokab felling the forest]. At first, I thought it was a mistake. Eklunden is a local hiking area with high natural value in the municipality's in-depth overview plan that was adopted this spring.”


As news of the forest’s felling spread, local residents, including children, took action. On Sunday, 12 September, numerous residents knocked on every door of every house bordering Eklunden. In a single day, they collected a staggering 465 signatures on a petition urging Kungälv Municipality to stop the felling and protect the forest in line with their plan for the area, FÖP Ytterby 2021.


Aurora was one of the children who helped circulate the petition. “It felt good to speak to my neighbors. I was really sad when my Mommy told me that Bokab was cutting down the forest. Now I got to do something about it,” remembers Aurora.


Children Become Increasingly Involved in the Struggle

Aurora was not the only child who helped protect the forest. Hampus, nine years old, helped circulate the petition because “the forest is important for the climate.” Emma, six years old, drew a picture showing what she likes to do in the forest, including “climbing on stones” and “sledding down hills.” Thea, six years old, and Clara, five years old, pinned drawings to a tree next to a clear-cut section of the forest, urging the municipality to save local wildlife habitats. “Where will I live?” asks a bird in one of the drawings.


After helping collect signatures, Aurora brought the petition to her school and asked people to sign it. She remembers speaking to at least five teachers, telling them, “the forest we use for school is being cut down.” Aurora also talked to her classmates, urging them to draw pictures to help protect the forest.


The drawing campaign was one of the most successful instruments used by children to save the forest. Children as young as two years old drew pictures depicting their love for the forest and how they felt about the forest being cut down. For example, Luna, age five, drew a picture of people, birds, butterflies, and trees crying as they stand among the trees felled by Bokab.


Raising Awareness

The children’s struggle to save the forest was published on the front page of Kungälvs-Posten on 28 September. In the story, Aurora, Luna, Emma, age six, and Iris, age five, demanded that Kungälv Municipality save the forest for the future and the environment.


On 30 September, Miguel Odhner, head of Kungälv Municipality, met with local children in Eklunden. Aurora, Luna, Thea, and Clara attended the meeting. First, Thea explained her devastation after hearing that Bokab was cutting down the forest. Next, Aurora spoke about the importance of the forest the well-being, education, and future of children living in the area. Then, the children and five adult participants took Odhner on a tour of Eklunden, pointing out the damage Bokab had done.


After the newspaper interview and her meeting with Odhner, Aurora recalls, “It was nice to speak my passion. I hope I can do it again, so others know that forests matter. Forests are important for the natural environment, including insects, birds, and animals. If we take away their homes, they will die. The trees and plants help clean the air. When we cut them down, we speed up climate change. I am only seven. I want to live as long as possible. I worry about my future if adults keep cutting down forests.”


“(Green) Lungs Come in Pairs”

On 1 October, Kungälv Municipality announced that they would listen to the community, save the forest, and “give the children what they want.” As Ordhner posted on Facebook, “The forest will remain […] there must always be green lungs for [residents] to rest and recover in nature when a municipality grows.”


For Aurora, the news was bittersweet. While she was happy that the municipality would save one part of Eklunden, she recalled that Odhner talked about cutting down a different part of the forest when they met the previous day. She observes, “Lungs come in pairs. I hope that Miguel and other politicians protect the forest on both sides of the walking path. They are an ecosystem. They go together. Cut down one, and the other has difficulty breathing.”


Advice for Children

Aurora says that she has learned a lot in her struggle to protect Eklunden, and she hopes her experience will inspire other children. Aurora comments, “The environment is my passion. It is important for me to tell people about it and to demand that they protect it. The people I spoke to about Eklunden listened, and now no one will cut down the forest. If other children want to speak their passion and protect the environment, they can draw pictures, talk to reporters and politicians, and demand adults think about the future. Without forests, our future is in big trouble. If kids are the future, kids need to decide what happens. More children need to speak up, and I hope their parents and teachers will help them do it.”


It is important to note that adults, including parents, teachers, and politicians, have a legal obligation to consult children on matters that affect their lives and consider children’s perspectives in decision-making processes. The child’s right to participation is codified in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). As of 30 September 2021, 196 countries have signed the UNCRC, including every member of the UN except the United States. Sweden, for example, ratified the UNCRC in 1990 and incorporated the convention into Swedish law on 1 January 2020. Consequently, every Swedish child now has a legal right “to express [their] views freely in all matters affecting [them],” and every Swedish adult with decision-making power has a legal obligation to solicit those views and to “[give them] due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.” Thus, when it comes to protecting the environment, children can—and, arguably, should—demand that their voices are heard and taken seriously.


If you’d like to read more about activism, environmental sustainability, and children’s rights, Aurora recommends:

A is for Activist, written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara

The Lorax, written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

What Do You Do with a Problem?, written by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (A Child-Friendly Explanation), Ombudsman for Children in Sweden

Keywords: #Children #ClimateActivism #ClimateChange #Eklunden #Empowerment #SaveTheForests #KungälvMuncipality #KungälvsPosten #Sweden #VästraGotaland #Ytterby

Elizabeth Olsson is a researcher at the School of Global Studies. She specializes in conflict resolution in classrooms and has worked extensively with children as a teacher and researcher.


Aurora Olsson is a Year 1 student at Kastellegårds Primary School in Ytterby, Sweden. She loves science and climbing trees. She wants to be a teacher when she grows up, so she can empower children to participate in the democratic process.