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Geocache in a forest.

Collecting forest experience research data through playing

The UNITE Geocache 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 Geotrails research project is part of the Academy of Finland's UNITE flagship which is exploring the interaction between forests, people, and machines. The project involves researchers from the Department of Forest Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland. The team includes doctoral researcher Philip Chambers who studies forestry-related gamification, doctoral 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 first two geocaching trails of the research project have been opened in North Karelia: one in Utranharju, Kontiolahti, and one in the Ruunaa hiking area in Lieksa. Another trail in Ruunaa will be opened in the near future. Later, more research trails will be established throughout Finland and beyond.

On June 18, 2022, from 4.30 pm to 5.30 pm the researchers are organising a meeting of geocachers, or an “Event Cache” at the Utranharju research trail. The researchers will be there to meet geocachers and talk about the study.

Each research trail contains 6–11 geocaches. With each geocache, it is possible to answer research questions about the geocache environment in Finnish or English. Participating in and answering the study is completely voluntary, so you can get around the caches without participating in the study although all answers are valuable for the research.

- The study examines how people’s experiences can be different in forest environments that have been treated differently. “This research data helps to understand how people experience forest nature and react to its change”, says Tuulikki Halla from the Department of Forest Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland.

Research material related to forest relationships, experiences, and environmental evaluations is often collected through various interviews and surveys.

- The use of geocaches to acquire research material is new and innovative. What is especially interesting and new is how, with the help of technology, the research subject can move around the research site at their own pace, experience the phenomenon being researched there, and then answer research questions based on their experiences”, says Halla.

The research project has been carried out in close cooperation with the Finnish Outdoor Association and the Geocaching Association of Finland (Suomen Latu and Geonautit ry).

Geocaching is a popular hobby worldwide. There are millions of geocaches 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 about 200,000 geocaching enthusiasts.

It is important for people navigating the research trails to take into account the terrain. Appropriate clothing and footwear should be worn, and players should act responsibly, and not disturb the environment while playing.

More information:

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

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