There are two main approaches to visitor monitoring:
- General population surveys of individuals at their home. This approach is employed for the Scottish Recreation Survey, the Welsh Outdoor Recreation Survey, the English Day Visits Survey and the Public Opinion of Forestry surveys (Tables 6.2 to 6.7).
- Surveying and counting of visitors to a specific area or woodland. On site surveying has been employed for the All Forest Monitoring and Quality of Experience surveys. In addition, the Northern Ireland Forest Service keep records of visitors who pay an admission charge to their sites.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, related to factors such as representativeness, feasibility and cost; 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 6.1 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 6.1 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 for 2004 onwards).
Differences in results - household survey versus on-site survey
The aggregate visit number estimate for Forestry Commission Scotland woodland obtained from the on site All Forests Scotland survey (8.2 million, table 6.9) is substantially lower than the corresponding estimates derived from the Scottish Recreation Survey (around 30 million, table 6.3). 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, which is a household survey, overestimates the number of visits while the All Forests Survey, an onsite survey, provides an underestimate. It may also be hypothesised that the 'true' number of visits to Forestry Commission Scotland woodland lies somewhere between the estimates derived from these surveys.
Results for 'total' visits from the Scottish Recreation Survey for 2004-2008 (tables 6.1, 6.3 and 6.4) have been amended from previously published figures.
Public Access to Woodland
Data on public access to woodland are derived from sources belonging to the Woodland Trust:
- The Woods for People project created an inventory of accessible woodland in 2004. Annual updates have been undertaken since and are included in table 6.14.
- The Space for People project analyses information from the Woodlands for People inventory to produce estimates on the proportion of the population who live close to woods.
Facilities and Activities
Information on the numbers of facilities and activities present at Forestry Commission sites are taken from the recreation listings on the Forestry Commission website. A small number of facilities are double counted as they appear more than once on the database used for the website.