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 Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (England) and the Public Opinion of Forestry surveys (Tables 6.1 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.
The information shown in Table 6.1 has been obtained from the following general population household surveys.
UK Day Visits Surveys (1994, 1996, 1998)
GB Day Visits Survey (2002/3)
- Scottish Recreation Survey (2003 onwards)
- England Leisure Visits Survey (2005)
- Welsh Outdoor Recreation Survey 2008
- Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (England 2009/10 onwards)
It is notable from table 6.1 that different surveys have provided some quite different estimates of the aggregate number of visits to woodlands. It is likely that differences in survey design and methodology have contributed to a considerable proportion of the differences in results between these surveys. As the scope of the surveys has evolved over time, the figures in Table 6.1 should not be interpreted as time trends but instead as separate results from each survey.
For England and GB, the 2002/3 GBDVS showed a lower number of visits to woodlands than previous surveys. For England, ELVS 2005 showed an even lower total. 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 differences identified in the table. The questionnaire wording for MENE, starting in 2009/10, was intended to prompt the reporting of more of the short local trips, and this has resulted in a substantial increase in the total woodland visits reported.
Table 6.1 also highlights large differences between UK/GBDVS and later surveys in the estimates for Scotland and Wales, although in contrast to the England and GB results, the Scottish and Welsh results are dramatically higher in recent years (and despite the Welsh figure being limited to trips with woodland as main destination). It is 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, Welsh Outdoor Recreation Survey 2008).
In common with all sample based surveys, the results from each survey are subject to the effects of chance, depending on the particular survey method used and the sample achieved, thus confidence limits apply to all results from these surveys. For example, the range of uncertainty around the estimated 62 million visits to woodland in Scotland (by Scottish residents) in 2008, should be within +/-14%, i.e. the true figure is likely to be between around 55 and 69 million.
In the Scottish Recreation Survey, the reports produced by TNS calculate the total number of visits for each month based on the average number of visits in a 4-week recall period, scaled up to the number of days in the month, applied to the Scottish adult population. These estimates are then allocated to trip locations using a data set of individual visit-weighted data. In reports produced by TNS and previous editions of Forestry Statistics, this allocation was done for each quarter using rounded percentages. For Forestry Statistics 2010 the calculation was changed to use annual unrounded weighted data; this should be more accurate and ensures that "main destination" results add across categories.
The Wales 2008 total is not shown explicitly in the initial reports for WORS 2008. It is calculated from the following figures in the tables: 36.028 million visits in 4 weeks x 13 x 14% to woodland (where the 14% is derived, unrounded, from 820/6045 in the weighted results).
For England, MENE 2009/10, woodland visits were identified in the part of the questionnaire that collected details for one visit per respondent. Appropriate visit weights were applied to each record in this data set, and weighted tables were then produced selecting all visits that included woodland.
Comparison with on-site survey - Scotland
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 for 2006-2007, 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.
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 6.13.
- 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. Full reports have been published for 2004 and 2009. Summary results are in table 6.14.
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.
When originally published by Woodland Trust, Woods for People data for publicly accessible woodland in 2004 included some non-woodland areas. They were revised in 2007, before their first inclusion in Forestry Statistics, to include woodland areas only.
Results for the Scottish Recreation Survey for years up to 2007 (tables 6.1, 6.3 and 6.4) were amended in 2009 from previously published figures, to incorporate improved weighting procedures.
The calculation of woodland visit numbers from the Scottish Recreation Survey (table 6.3) was refined in 2010 to use annual unrounded weighted data rather than rounded percentages.