Whether you are working in woodlands, processing woodfuel or planning your community energy project, you will need to communicate your ideas and activities to your local community from the earliest stages of the project.
- Guides to engagement and consultation
- Managing woodlands
- Processing woodfuel
- Community engagement Issues to consider
You may be seeking to consult their opinion, gain local support and engage volunteers. Some evidence of on-going community engagement and support may be needed when applying for grants and loans.
You may also need to engage with other types of stakeholders such as Natural England, the Environment Agency and your local authority.
A number of useful guides and toolkits exist to help you work out what you legally need to do, as well as best practice tips for getting your local community on board with your project.
Stakeholder and community engagement: a guide for woodland owners and managers in England’ (Lantern & Sylva Foundation)
Getting People Involved (PlanLoCaL)
Stakeholder and community engagement is important when you are:
- writing a management plan (or felling licence application)
- preparing to carry out (or carrying out) management activities in the woodland
- considering how you can develop long-term relationships with your local community (e.g. as volunteers or woodland visitors).
If you are involved in any of the above activities as the owner of a community woodland, or working with private or public woodland owners, you will need to make sure you are clear on who you should be engaging with, and about what. You may find a communications plan/stakeholder engagement plan helpful from the earliest stages of your project.
Stakeholder engagement is a requirement of the UK Forestry Standard.
Whether or not the woodland is accessible to the public, good practice woodland management will involve engagement with stakeholders, including the local community when undertaking management activities in the woodland.
Taking a proactive approach to community engagement can promote wider understanding of your vision for the woodland, including the production of woodfuel, and the benefits of woodland management. This can lead to higher levels of interest and active support when opportunities arise, e.g. volunteering or open days. Engagement can also help reduce the likelihood of negative reactions to your plans and activities within the local community due to a lack of communication or poor understanding of what you are trying to achieve.
Stakeholder and community engagement - a guide for woodland owners and managers in England (Lantern and the Sylva Foundation) - provides guidance, templates and case studies to help you plan and implement engagement appropriate to your activities. The management planning requirements in Scotland and Wales may differ slightly and should be checked with your local Forestry Commission office.
If you are processing woodfuel in a yard or woodfuel hub, you will need to check you have the appropriate planning permissions and land use consents. If you develop a new hub, public consultation will be undertaken, as part of the planning process.
If you are running a small scale processing operation in the woodland that is publicly accessible, you may find it beneficial to provide information in the form of posters or leaflets for members of the public to understand what you are doing. This will reduce the likelihood of someone misunderstanding the operation and making a complaint. it could also provide you with a marketing opportunity, if your products are for sale.
If you are planning a community energy project, you need to engage with your community for a number of reasons. You may be looking for more volunteers to join your group or for people with specific skills to help with specific tasks. Alternatively you may need to get your wider community on board with your project as potential customers of your heat network, or because your project may impact on them in some way (e.g. visual or noise impact).
Whatever your reason for consultation, you will need to understand your target audiences’ interests and motivations, effectively communicate what you hope to achieve and gain their support for your plans.
Getting people involved (PlanLoCaL) The resources cover developing a community engagement strategy, involving local people and organisations and planning events and consultation meetings.
If your project requires planning permission (your local planning authority will advise you), a formal public consultation period will take place for your planning application. This will be managed by the local planning authority but you may be asked to, or choose to, host or attend a consultation event, to enable people to find out more about the application. This is why engaging with your community at an early stage in your project idea and throughout the life of the project will help minimise any concerns or confusion people may have about your project.
- In the initial phases of your project, be open to creative ideas and suggestions from outside your core project group and consult widely
- Identify all your stakeholders at an early stage and develop different activities to engage them, based on their different motivations – and don’t forget to review and update your list of stakeholders as your project moves forward.
- Involve the wider community in your ideas at an early stage will help reduce the chance of any potential opposition to your plans. Developing a shared vision will also help.
- Be clear on the purpose of any events you hold – if you are hosting a consultation event, be open to other peoples’ opinions and ideas and not just inform people of your plans. Bear in mind that local people will have to live with your project.
- Be creative in how you reach out to people – practical and social events such as meetings, offering networking opportunities and woodland days are great for getting people involved initially. Social media tools can provide low cost and time options for maintaining interest and keeping people informed between meetings.