Evaluation of woodland projects funded by Active England

Did ActiveEngland’s woodland and greenspace projects increase community participation in sport and physical activity?

Musical sculpture at Haldon Forest ParkBedgebury children's adventure playground


The Active England programme aimed to increase community participation in sport and physical activity across England. Five projects focused on promoting exercise in woodlands and greenspace, especially targeting key under-represented groups. Grants helped to improve site infrastructure and put on events, activities and training to help attract new users and encourage them to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Key findings and recommendations


  • Higher participation among 16-44 year-olds: three sites raised representation from this target group by adding new cycle, walking and play trails, and other new infrastructure
  • Families: more visits from families to all sites
  • Black and minority ethnic groups: more visits at all sites, with significant increases at Bedgebury, Rosliston and Haldon
  • Motivation: users from target groups highlighted socialising, the chance to meet new people and the opportunities to improve health as their main motivations for participating
  • Sustained participation: evidence suggests that involvement in project activities often led to more active lifestyles
  • Volunteers: a vital human resource to lead activities (e.g. health walks), but who themselves also benefited by developing their own abilities and improving self-esteem


  • Adequate staffing and support: the time and costs for community engagement and outreach to target groups must be realistically factored into project plans
  • Long-term perspective: staff need help and allocated time for long-term strategic and business planning
  • Monitoring: evaluation needs careful design and planning to demonstrate impact, value for money and to inform decisions
  • Publicity: activities and ‘facilitated access’ should be promoted locally using existing community structures
  • Communication: word of mouth and communication through social networks are critical to successful engagement
  • Led activities: ‘facilitated access’ for targeted groups provides an invaluable form of support and encouragement to get involved
  • Regular activities: organised activities run on a regular basis are more likely to bring about sustained changes in behaviour than one-off events that attract large audiences


Project reports

Funding and partners

Commissioned and funded by the Active England programme, a £100 million initiative jointly funded by Sport England and the Big Lottery Fund.




Liz O’Brien