Public perspectives of the social and cultural values of woods

Soho square, London, showing the importance of trees in the urban environmentWhy are trees and woodlands important to people? This question has been addressed by research carried out in northwest and southeast England. Discussion groups were held with members of the public from a variety of different age groups and socio-economic background to allow them to discuss their use of woodlands and green space and why these places were important to them.

In this piece of research woodlands were primarily valued for the escape they provided from the stress of everyday life and as somewhere to have contact with nature.

Why are woodlands and trees important to people?

From the discussion groups with members of the public the study found that trees and woodlands are important to people for a number of reasons:

  • Woodlands were valued for the escape they provide from everyday life and pressures. Groups focused predominantly on the mental and emotional benefits they received in woodlands rather than the physical benefits.
  • Cost is particularly significant especially for families, those on low incomes, the unemployed and non-car owners who felt that visiting green space or woodland was a relatively inexpensive day out.
  • One of the key gender differences across all areas and ages was the suggestion by the majority of women in the groups that they would not feel comfortable visiting woodlands alone.
  • All groups expressed concerns about increasing development. In the urban groups there was a desire not to lose any green space to further business development. In rural areas the concern centred on housing and increasing numbers of people escaping from urban areas to live in the countryside.
  • All groups saw education as important although urban and rural groups expressed this differently. Urban groups wanted children, specifically, to learn about and have contact with nature so that they would have respect for it. In rural areas education was seen as an important element of learning and appreciating nature for all age groups.
  • People’s views of trees and woodlands are related to wider issues over changes in society and concerns over environmental and cultural change.

Children on a walkway enjoying the forestHow do woodlands and trees important make people feel?

It is important to understand not only what activities people are undertaking in woodlands such as walking or cycling but also how that makes them feel.

People often described the importance of having contact with nature to escape from the stress of their everyday lives. They described feelings of well-being and enjoyment in both using and viewing trees and woodlands.

People’s childhood memories of using trees and woods seemed to have an impact on how they used these areas as adults:

  • They described going back to places they had enjoyed and valued as a child
  • They talked about taking their own children or grandchildren to these places as well.

Opportunities to use woodlands

Volunteers involved in a clean up operation in LiverpoolHaving the opportunity to use woodlands was not always easy.

Constraints to using these areas were identified as:

  • Lack of transport to reach woodland
  • Anti-social behaviour by others
  • Concerns about personal safety
  • Unmanaged woods with litter and evidence of vandalism
  • Lack of easily accessible woodlands near to where people live
  • Lack of time in busy modern lives.