There are two main approaches to visitor monitoring:
- General population surveys of individuals at their home (Visits to woodland - household surveys)
- Surveying and counting of visitors to a specific area or woodland (Visits to woodland - on-site surveys)
There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, related to factors such as representativeness, feasibility and cost and each approach provides different types of information.
In general, on-site studies provide information on visitor interaction with local or specific woodland areas and include all categories of visitors to a site, regardless of their country of residence and interests.
In contrast, general population studies are limited to residents of a certain country or area, are often carried out by market research companies at a national level, and include people who do not visit woodlands.
Differences in results - household surveys
It is notable from table 5.1 that different surveys have provided some quite different estimates of the aggregate number of visits to woodlands; for example, a fall, in recent years, in the estimated number of visits to woodlands in England and GB. It is likely that the use of different market research companies and varying approaches and practices (in-home or telephone interview, changed questionnaire structure etc) are responsible for a substantial proportion of the fall identified in the table.
Table 5.1 also highlights a large difference in the estimates for Scotland, although in contrast to the England and GB results, the Scottish result is dramatically higher in recent years. It is, however, again likely that this variation is primarily connected with the change in survey scope, design and methodology (UK and GB Day Visit Surveys until 2002/3, Scottish Recreation Survey 2004 onwards).
Differences in results - household survey versus on-site survey
The aggregate visit number estimate for Forestry Commission Scotland woodland obtained from the All Forests Scotland survey (8.5 million, table 5.7) is substantially lower than the corresponding estimates derived from the Scottish Recreation Survey (around 30 million, table 5.3). Although it would be unreasonable to expect that two surveys which employ such differing methods would produce consistent estimates, the magnitude of the difference is notable. Considering the methods employed in these surveys, it may be hypothesised that the the Scottish Recreation Survey overestimates the number of visits, the All Forests Survey provides an underestimate and that the 'true' number of visits to Forestry Commission Scotland woodland lies somewhere between the estimates derived from these surveys.