Supporting woodland management through participatory statistics

A new deliberative stakeholder engagement method to help woodland managers optimise forests’ societal benefits has been developed with colleagues at The James Hutton Institute.

The importance of ecosystems and biodiversity to human well-being is now well established. Ecosystem services are co-produced through human-nature interactions, hence different choices in site management impact who benefits or disbenefits, and in which way.  A new holistic, inclusive, and deliberative assessment of future woodland management interventions has been developed in collaboration with colleagues at the James Hutton Institute to understand the societal benefits of different management approaches. 

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Workshop participants deliberating after scoring the ecosystem benefits derived from management interventions.

A series of deliberative scenario workshops was conducted across Scotland with diverse groups of local experts who discussed these perceived impacts on a suite of ecosystem services. These workshops were conducted in six woodland sites, located in three areas in Scotland: Cumbernauld (North Lanarkshire), Glen Creran (Argyll and Bute) and Loch Arkaig (Highlands). In each workshop the stakeholders scored and discussed the impact of different management approaches on 11 benefit indicators (e.g., mental restoration or employment) for three hypothetical future scenarios, each based on biodiversity conservation, people engagement and austerity, alongside scenarios of the past, present and each site’s 10-year management plan for comparison.

BioSS colleagues contributed both to the individual analysis of each of the woodland sites and the cross-site analysis of the combined quantitative and qualitative data resulting from this participatory statistics exercise. In line with other participatory methods that enable local people to generate statistics for local level planning, learning and reflection, the design of the exercise included a reduced numbers of participants to allow for active engagement (between 5-9 per workshop, and 41 in total). In addition to that, the very diverse sites made generalizations to the whole of Scotland not possible, but the innovative methodology is proposed as easily replicable for other sites, and the cross-site findings included several commonalities which are likely to be present elsewhere. 

Overall, according to the local experts, a lack of site management, such as that in the low budget scenario, was perceived as very poor for ecosystem benefits. In particular, it was considered important that urban and peri-urban woodland sites (sites immediately surrounding a city or town) were well managed and maintained in ways that enabled people to use them and feel safe. Active management of the woodland sites was also considered essential to enable people to co-produce benefits such as place attachment, mental restoration and employment. It was considered important that urban and peri-urban woodland sites were well managed and maintained in ways that people could feel safe and able to use and enjoy them. In addition, managing woodlands for people engagement had a perceived positive effect across all sites on learning, knowledge and skills. Community engagement programmes were also seen as very important. First, to get people who did not commonly use the woodlands involved; second, as a way of addressing environmental justice issues; and third, as critical for place attachment, mental restoration and spirituality. However, it was also acknowledged that a balance needed to be struck in sites with limited access by providing spaces where people can escape any ‘busyness’, to find tranquility and solitude. Finally, managing woodlands with a focus on biodiversity conservation was perceived to have an overall negative effect on timber extraction and employment/income across all the sites. The removal of non-native trees such as beech or culturally important trees for biodiversity conservation purposes raised similar concerns.

The associated paper “Exploring the impacts of woodland management on ecosystem services – a deliberative method” is open access and is now available to read.

This work was done in collaboration with Antonia Eastwood and Anja Byg (now RSPB), Anke Fischer (now Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences., Uppsala, Sweden), Scott Herrett (now Friends of the Earth Scotland), Robin Pakeman, Alison Hester, Laura MacLean, Alice Hague, Alba Juarez-Bourke, Keith Marshall, and Gillian Donaldson-Selby from the James Hutton Institute. It was funded under the Scottish Government's 2016-2021 Environment, Agriculture and Food Strategic Research Programme.


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Further details from: Altea Lorenzo-Arribas