As part of the Northwoods Innovation Programme, a survey of woodland owners was undertaken to gather knowledge around the barriers that are preventing or limiting active management of woodlands in the Northeast and Yorkshire to inform the development of the project. The online survey was targeted at woodland owners in these regions.
It should be noted that the chosen methodology meant respondents were likely to be those that already have an interest in woodlands and managing their woodlands. Therefore, the survey was unlikely to reach those woodland owners who are not undertaking any management and not interested in doing so. This was confirmed by the responses received.
Respondents, Ownership and Woodland Characteristics
The total number of responses received from woodland owners was 73. This is a relatively small sample so care must be taken in how much weight we place on the findings – they may not be representative. The findings can be summarised as mainly representing the view of small, privately owned woodland owners: Of all respondents, the largest single group (40%) were owners of broadleaved woodlands between 1-10 hectares. 71% of respondents were ‘private personal’ owners, followed by 14% private farming businesses. The majority of respondents owned woodlands under 25 hectares (79%), with 67% of them under 10 hectares.
Aims for Woodlands
‘Protecting or improving nature, biodiversity and wildlife habitat’ was either a high or moderate priority for every respondent to the survey. This was followed by ‘improving the landscape’ (95% of respondents rated it as high or moderate priority). Other motives that were selected by 50% or more of respondents included ‘personal recreation/personal pleasure’, ‘my own health and well-being’, ‘improving carbon stocks’ and ‘to generate wood products for personal use’.
The motives which the most owners ranked as ‘Not a priority’ or ‘Low priority’ were hunting/fishing (68% of responses), followed by providing screening (49%) then non-timber forest products (45%).
53% of respondents had no woodland management plan (WMP). The data suggest that the size of the woodland is a factor in whether or not a woodland has a WMP, with 71% of woodlands up to 10 hectares having no WMP, but that figure is only 17% for woodlands over 11 hectares.
Those with an FC approved WMPs were significantly more likely to state generating wood products for income or personal use as a high priority motive for their woodland than those with no WMP.
The most popular source of advice on woodland management was ecologists/environmental advisors which correlates to protecting nature/biodiversity as the most popular aim for respondents’ woodlands.
68% of respondents were taking no frequent advice from any source, but this rose to 90% of farmers. All the woodlands where no advice had been taken (16%) were under 25 hectares.
Those with an FC WMP are much more likely to be receiving frequent professional advice than those without. The data do not provide insight into whether frequent advice leads to a management plan or having a management plan in place leads owners to seek/require frequent advice.
While 32% of respondents’ woodlands had no frequent management activity, only 2 respondents undertook no management activities in their woodlands. This illustrates that the survey did not reach those owners who are completely disengaged and not interested in the management of their woodlands.
The activities that most respondents were undertaking either frequently or occasionally were conserving deadwood and veteran tress, restocking, fencing and fence maintenance, thinning and tree health management.
Barriers to Woodland Management
The barriers that were most frequently stated as limiting management activities were the availability of grants and difficulty accessing grants. Economical viability, access and lack of skills or knowledge were also among the most frequently reported barriers. Farmers had a different perspective compared to private woodland owners on the most significant barriers, with terrain, windblow, small/fragmented woodlands, and lack of time/priority being most frequently stated.
There is strong alignment between the goals of the WIMFIF programme in Yorkshire and the North East and those of the woodland owners surveyed. However, the findings on barriers perceived by respondents compared to those outlined in the WIM FIF programme were more mixed. In particular, it should be noted that the top four barriers most frequently stated by respondents are not included in the WIM FIF list of barriers: difficulty accessing grants, lack of grants, economic viability and access.
The findings of this survey on woodland owner aims show a very similar pattern to the most recent “British Woodlands Survey” (2017).
The high percentage of ‘private personal’ owners with small woodlands, along with identification of ‘personal pleasure’ and/or ‘my own health and well-being’ as priorities suggest that respondents could be part of the trend for ‘woodlotting’ which is bringing new people into the woodland sector and the pros and cons that generates.
There were significant differences in opinions regarding barriers between farmers and private woodland owners. Farmers ranked most barriers more highly, with only access and skills ranked lower than private owners. They were also less likely to be receiving professional advice.
There was a very significant disparity between woodlands under or over 10ha as to whether they had a WMP (17% cf 71%), which underlines that current arrangements are not sufficient to motivate small woodland owners to prepare, and have approved, a UKFS compliant WMP.
The findings have been used to identify areas where innovation could be used to overcome barriers to increased woodland management. The next steps will be to explore these areas with the Northwoods consortium and identify potential innovators who could be supported through the project to test or develop innovative solutions. Based on the findings of the survey, it would appear that on the whole what is required is innovative, novel ways of working, rather than technological innovations, in particular in co-operative ways. The results will also be used to inform the events programme and develop the Year 2 Communication plan.