Evaluation of Forestry Commission Offenders and Nature (O&N) schemes

How does woodland work help people in prison?

Offenders from HMP Winchester working with the Forestry Commission in Micheldever Wood

Offenders from HMP Winchester maintaining the M3 corridor

Offender from HMP Winchester formative pruning of oak trees at Micheldever Wood

(Photos: Ben Phelan, Forestry Commission)


The Forestry Commission’s Offenders and Nature (O&N) scheme involves prisoners and probationers working alongside a supervisor on forest maintenance activities. The scheme is designed to help sentenced individuals gain industry-relevant skills, work experience and confidence to secure employment. Their work benefits the public and woodland biodiversity. Forest Research interviewed scheme stakeholders and participants to identify the impact of the scheme, its effectiveness at reducing re-offending and its cost-effectiveness.

Key findings

  • Outdoors: being outdoors was important to many (but not all) participants
  • Health: participants were aware of the all-round health benefits of the work
  • Skills: tasks demand a mixture of independent and team work, and opportunities to test and improve skills
  • Non-academic: many offenders have lower-than-average school qualifications, so O&N suits them as academic skills are less relevant than commitment, enthusiasm and diligence in following instructions
  • Positive identify: as part of a workforce, offenders build a sense of self-worth and positive identify
  • Employment: the skills and training help participants to access employment


  • Paid placements: more opportunities for paid placements are important as a transition from volunteering; a lack of money is a major factor in re-offending
  • On-the-job training: providing skills consolidation and work experience during a prison sentence, followed by a period of employment after release, is a key ingredient in assisting long-term employability
  • Longer duration: short-term courses and work experience are valuable, but cannot deliver the same life-changing benefits as a long-term (minimum six months) work placement
  • Being outdoors: working outside in the natural environment has special qualities and a positive effect on well-being as offenders find time and space to reflect and make positive changes in their lives
  • Team work: close team work is a new experience for many participants, but the work supervisor must be able to motivate, nurture skills, maintain high standards and act as a role model and mentor


Funding and partners

Commissioned and funded by the Forestry Commission.


Liz O'Brien