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Landowners’ attitudes to woodland creation and management in the UK: a review of current evidence

Tree planting at HicksWoodland management at BentWhat does existing evidence tell us about landowners’ values, attitudes and knowledge in relation to decisions about woodland management and creation?


Current strategic objectives include an increase in woodland area and quality. Organisations such as the Forestry Commission (FC) and Woodland Trust (WT) need to engage with woodland owners and/or their agents, and  to understand their attitudes and decisions better, in order to support these objectives.

A considerable number of studies have already been conducted, that explore these issues. Before conducting further research, we reviewed these. We conducted an extensive search, and applied the following criteria for inclusion in the review - work that is:

  • Based on empirical data, not author’s opinion or literature review;
  • Focused on values, attitudes, beliefs, or actions of owners and their representatives, not on description or economic assessment of woodland management options;
  • Published from 1990 onwards, after woodland grants replaced tax incentives as the principal policy delivery mechanism.

This led to 34 eligible studies which were included in the review.

Key findings

Owners’ reasons for having and planting woodland

There is a clear pattern amongst the studies that provide evidence on owners’ reasons for having and planting woodland. Landscape and conservation (wildlife and shelterbelt) are ranked highest, with shooting also often high; production and profit come low in the list of priorities, and provision of public recreation even lower.

Many studies report a sense of custodianship or responsibility for the land and landscape. This is closely linked to a concern for control over land use.

In addition the studies of farmers’ attitudes highlight a shared culture which seeks peer respect based on ‘good’ or ‘correct’ land use. Using the land for its appropriate productive purpose is an important value and can undermine attempts to encourage tree planting.

Relationship between grant availability and decisions to plant

There is mixed and inconclusive evidence about the relationship between grant availability and decisions to plant. Availability of grants does appear to influence those who are already interested in woodland, but not to affect the choices of those who are not interested. Expert opinion suggests that higher grants reach a ‘tipping point’ and can change behaviour, but this has not been tested in the evidence reviewed.

Landowners’ perceptions of grants and grant schemes

The evidence reviewed by this study highlight four primary aspects of landowners’ perceptions of grants and grant schemes.  These relate to:

  • Bureaucracy and administration
  • Economic adequacy
  • Control and property rights and
  • Restrictiveness and flexibility.

The complexity and bureaucracy involved in grant application is reported only in recent literature and appears to have increased considerably in the last few years. The perceived relevance and importance of grants varies in relation to the purpose of the grant.

Owning existing woodland vs. creating new woods

The studies reveal fewer differences than might have been expected between owners of existing woodland and those landowners asked about creating new woods All apparently rated conservation highly, and showed little interest in the economic potential. However studies of woodland owners often showed strong emotional and cultural connections with their woodlands that were not apparent among farmers, whose values favoured production and ‘appropriateness’.

Role of grants

Furthermore, the role of grants in changing behaviour seems stronger in relation to woodland creation. Personal contact with an advisor affects grant uptake for woodland creation, whereas advice alone may be effective in influencing management of neglected woodland.

Attitudes of different types of landowners

A few studies draw out differences of attitudes and / or behaviour between different subgroups of those surveyed, and two studies construct typologies of different kinds of owners. One particular challenge will be to test indicators which help to assess which ‘type’ an owner falls into, if indeed such types are widely applicable.

Reports and publications

Cover of Landowners’ attitudes to woodland creation and management in the UK reportLandowners’ attitudes to woodland creation and management: a review of evidence in the UK - Summary report (PDF-443K)
By Anna Lawrence and Norman Dandy, Forest Research, 2010.

Landowners’ attitudes to woodland creation and management: a review of evidence in the UK - Full report (PDF-2639K)
By Anna Lawrence, Norman Dandy and Julie Urquhart, Forest Research, 2010

Related publications:

Further work

The study identified evidence gaps which will contribute to the identification of future research directions:

  • The effects of policy drivers.
  • Change in land ownership, and its impact.
  • Behaviour change in response to financial incentives and / or advisory services.
  • Impacts of regulation and legislation upon land owners decisions. Specifically, comparison with another European country which did not adopt similar changes.
  • Retrospective studies of owners’ attitudes in some of the areas which have experienced recent surges in planting, particularly the National Forest and some of the Community Forests.  The results of such a study could usefully be combined with a systematic review of evidence about planting rates in response to different grants over time and space.
  • Studies of Local Authorities, NGOs, other institutional and commercial (wood)land owners: priorities and opportunities for engagement.
  • Focus on native woodland.
  • Attitudes and influence of land managers and agents.
  • Attitudes towards different silvicultural techniques.  Direct seeding approaches may, for example, be of much greater attractiveness and familiarity to the farming sector than other forms of ‘new planting’.
  • Attitudes and priorities as they vary from region to region. 

Funders and partners

Woodland Trust logo Forestry Commission logo
This work was completed by Forest Research for the Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission.


This project was completed spring 2010.


Anna Lawrence

Norman Dandy