Liz O’Brien, BSc, PhD

Head of Social and Economic Research Group

Liz O'Brien


Tel: +44 (0)300 067 5600
Tel direct: +44 (0)300 067 5700
Fax: +44 (0)1420 23653

Forest Research
Alice Holt Lodge
Surrey GU10 4LH

Liz O'Brien on ResearchGate

Dr Liz O’Brien joined Forest Research in 2000, after completing a PhD at the University of Central Lancashire which involved research into land management and environmental conservation practices of organisations, landowners and farmers.

Current role

Head of Social and Economic Research Group

Liz’s research experience and interests concerns the well-being benefits that people gain from engagement with trees, woodlands and green spaces at a variety of different levels of activity from ‘hands on’ engagement, such as volunteering, to using and being in woodlands through walking, cycling etc.

This aspect of Liz’s work focuses particularly on health and restoration in terms of physical and mental health, and also on education and learning particularly through the Forest School approach to learning. She is interested in how the benefits people gain can potentially lead to wider impacts on individual’s lives, and community development and capacity.

In exploring people’s relationships with nature she also have a specific interest in marginalised or excluded groups of people and the barriers that prevent these groups within society from benefiting and accessing woodlands and green spaces. She has undertaken action research to gather data and embed learning into institutions and groups.

She has also been involved in a number of interdisciplinary projects with ecologists, economists, psychologists, biologists and finds this a particularly important way of gaining different perspectives and understanding other approaches and methods and seeing how these can be incorporated into new research.

Current programmes

Affiliations and achievements

Liz organised a range of seminars and conferences to raise debate and generate discussion for future research, often with a range of collaborators:

Conferences/Seminars Year Location
Social Forestry 2000 Alice Holt, Farnham
Social Science Research into Woodlands and the Natural Environment 2001 Cardiff University
Health and Well-Being: Trees, Woodlands and Natural Spaces 2003 Dumfries, London and Cardiff
Accessibility of Woodlands and Natural Spaces: Addressing Crime and Safety Issues 2004 London
Children and Nature 2010 London

Research areas

  • Social and cultural values
  • Health and well-being
  • Education and learning
  • Accessibility: crime, safety and risk
  • Behaviour change
  • Ecosystem services

Peer reviewed papers

Irvine, K., O’Brien, L., Ravenscroft, N., Cooper, N., Everard, M., Fazey, I., Reed, M., Kenter, J.O. 2016. Ecosystem services and the idea of shared values. Ecosystem Services 21, 184-193.

Kenter, J.O., Reed, M. S., Irvine, K.N., O'Brien, E., Bryce, R., Christie, M., Cooper, N., Hockley, N., Fazey, I., Orchard-Webb, J., Ravenscroft, N., Raymond, C.M., Tett, P., Watson, V. 2016. Shared values and deliberative valuation: Future directions. Ecosystem Services 21, 358-371.

O’Brien, L. Morris, J. Mazarno, M and Dandy, N. (2016) Promoting sustainability behaviours through forestry. Forestry: An International Journal of Forest Research doi: 10.1093/forestry/cpw030

Skar, M. Gunderson, V and O’Brien, L (2016) How to engage children with nature: why not just let them play?  Children’s Geographies, 14: 527-540.

Skar, M. Gunderson, V and O’Brien, L (2016) Why do children not play in nearby nature? Results from a Norwegian survey. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning,16: 239-255

Gunderson, V. Skar, M. O’Brien, L, Wold, L. Follo, G. (2016) Children and nearby nature: A nationwide parental survey from Norway. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 17: 116-125.

Jasper O. Kenter, Liz O’Brien, Neal Hockley, Neil Ravenscroft, Ioan Fazey, Katherine N.Irvine, Mark S. Reed, Michael Christie, Emily Brady, Rosalind Bryce, Andrew Church, Nigel Cooper, Althea Davies, Anna Evely, Mark Everard, Robert Fish, Janet A. Fisher, Niels Jobstvogt, Claire Molloy, Johanne Orchard-Webb, Susan Ranger, Mandy Ryan, Verity Watson and Susan Williams. 2015. What are shared and social values of ecosystems? Ecological Economics, 111: 86-99.

O’Brien, L. Morris, J and Stewart, A. 2014. Engaging with peri-urban woodlands in England: the contribution to people’s health and well-being and implications for future management. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 11: 6171-6192; doi:10.3390/ijerph110606171

O’Brien, L. Ambrose-Oji, B. Morris, J and Edwards, D. 2014. Civil society and flood resilience: characterising flood risk volunteers and understanding motivations and benefits. National Council for Voluntary Organisations. Conference paper. Winner of the Campbell Adamson Prize for best paper of the conference.

Williams, K. O’Brien, L and Stewart A. 2013. Urban health and urban forestry: how can forest management agencies help? Arboriculture Journal, 35: 119-133

O’Brien, L., Marzano, M., White R.M. (2013) Participatory interdisciplinarity: Towards the integration of disciplinary diversity with stakeholder engagement for new models of knowledge production. Science and Public Policy (2013) 40 (1): 51-61 first published online January 7, 2013 doi:10.1093/scipol/scs120

O’Brien, L and Varley, P. (2012). Use of ethnographic approaches to the study of health experiences in relation to natural landscapes. Perspectives in Public Health, 132: 305-312.

Jay, M., Peters, K., Buijs, A., Gentin, S., Kloek, M. and O’Brien, L. (2011). Towards more inclusiveness? Policy and research on access of ethnic minority groups to natural areas in four European countries. Forestry Policy and Economics, 19: 4-11.

Townsend, M. Ebden, M and O’Brien, L. (2011). Greening places reduces the blues: promoting mental health through environmental volunteering. Public Health Bulletin South Australia: Health and the Environment, Vol 8, No 2: 3-6.

Morris, J. and O’Brien, E. (2011). Encouraging healthy outdoor activity amongst under-represented groups: An evaluation of the Active England woodland projects. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. Available at:

O'Brien, L., Burls, A., Townsend, M. and Ebden, M. (2011). Volunteering with nature as a way of enabling people to re-integrate into society. Perspectives in Public Health, 131: 71-81.

Morris, J., O’Brien, L., Ambrose-Oji, B., Lawrence, A. and Carter, C. (2011). Access for all? Barriers to accessing woodlands and forests in Britain. Local Environment. 16: 375-396.

Quine, C., Barnett, J., Dobson, A., Marcu, A., Marzano, M., Moseley, D., O’Brien, L., Randolph., Taylor, J. and Uzzell, D. (2011). Frameworks for risk communication and disease management: the case of lyme disease and countryside users. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.  doi:10.1098/rstb.2010.0397.

O’Brien, L., Burls, A., Bentsen, P., Hilmo, I., Holter, K., Haberling, D., Pirnat, J., Sarv, M., Vilbaste, K. and McLoughlin, J. (2011). Outdoor education, life long learning and skills development in woodlands and green spaces: the potential links to health and well-being. In K. Nilsson. M. Sangster. C. Gallis. T. Hartig. S. de Vries. K. Seeland. Forests, trees and human health. Book Chapter 12: 343-374. Springer.

Park, J.J., O’Brien, L., Roe, J., Ward Thompson, C. & Mitchell, R. (2010). The natural outdoors and health: assessing the value and potential contribution of quantitative public surveys in the UK to current and future knowledge. Health & Place. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2010.11.005.

O'Brien, L., Townsend, M. and Ebden, M. (2010). ‘Doing something positive’: Volunteer’s experiences of the well-being benefits derived from practical conservation activities in nature. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Non profit organisations, 21: 525-545.

O’Brien, E. (2009). Learning outdoors: the Forest School approach. Invited paper. Education 3-13, 37: 45-60.

Carter, C. and O’Brien, L. (2008). Identity building in the woods: re-connecting with nature for health and well-being. ECOS. 29: 33-41

O'Brien, L and Murray, R. (2007). Forest School and its impacts on young children: case studies in Britain. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 6: 249-265.

O’Brien, E. and Snowdon, H. (2007). Health and well-being in woodlands: a case study of the Chopwell Wood Health Project. Arboricultural Journal 30: pp45-60.

O’Brien, E. (2006). Strengthening heart and mind”: using woodlands to improve mental and physical well-being.  Unasylva 224. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

O’Brien, E. (2006). Social housing and greenspace: a case study in inner London. Forestry. DOI: 10.1039/forestry/cp1029.

O'Brien, E. Greenland, M and Snowdon, H. (2006). Using woodlands and woodland grants to improve public health. Scottish Forestry, 60, 2: 18-24.

O’Brien, E. (2006). A question of value: what do trees and forests mean to people in Vermont?  Landscape research 31, 3: 257-275.

O’Brien, E. (2005). Publics and woodlands: well-being, local identity, social learning, conflict and management. Forestry, DOI:10.1093/forestry/cpi042.

O’Brien, E. (2005). Bringing together ideas of social enterprise, education and community woodland: the hill holt wood approach. Scottish Forestry 59: 7-14.

O’Brien, E. (2005). Tackling youth disaffection through woodland vocational training. Quarterly Journal of Forestry 99: 125-130.

O'Brien, E. (2005). Social and cultural values of trees and woodlands in northwest and southeast England. Forest Snow and Landscape Research, 79: 169-184.

O’Brien, E. (2003). Human values and their importance to the development of forestry policy in Britain: a literature review. Forestry 76: 3-17.

O’Brien, E. (2003). Public and institutional perspectives on forests and trees: views from Vermont and England. Scottish Forestry 57: 73-80.

Other publications

O’Brien, L. Ambrose-Oji, B. Waite, S. 2016. Learning on the move: green exercise for children and young people. In press. In J Barton, R Bragg, C Wood, J Pretty (eds) Green Exercise: Linking nature, health and well-being. Earthscan, London.

O’Brien, L. 2014. Innovative NHS Greenspace. Briefing note for the Green Exercise Partnership (made up of NHS Scotland, FC Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage) pp6.

O’Brien, L. 2014. We have stopped moving: Tackling physical inactivity – a role for the Public Forest Estate in England. Forestry Commission and Forest Research

O’Brien, L and Morris, J. 2013. Using woodlands to improve individual and community well-being. In R. Coles and Z. Millian. Landscape, well-being and Environment. Routledge, pp167-183.

O’Brien, L., Owen, R., Singh, J and Lawrence, A. (2009). Social dynamics of London’s trees, woodlands and green spaces. Forestry Commission England, London.

Edwards, D., Elliot, A., Hislop, M., Martin, S., Morris, J., O’Brien, L., Peace, A., Sarajevs, V., Serrand, M. and Valatin, G. (2009). A valuation of the economic and social contribution of Forestry for People in Scotland (PDF-2980K) . Research Report FCRN101. Forestry Commission Scotland, Edinburgh, pp190.

Edwards, D., Morris, J., O’Brien, L., Sarajevs, V. and Valatin, G. (2008). The economic and social contribution of Forestry for People in Scotland (PDF-404K). Research Note FCRN102, Forestry Commission, pp8.

O’Brien, E. and Murray, R. (2006). A marvellous opportunity for children to learn (PDF-1527K). A participatory evaluation of Forest School in England and Wales. Forest Research, Farnham.

O’Brien, E. (2005). Trees and woodlands - Nature's health service (PDF-2825K) . Information and evidence supporting the idea that the use and enjoyment of woodlands and green spaces improves people’s overall health and well-being. Forest Research, Farnham.

O’Brien, E. and Tabbush, P. (2005). Accessibility of woodlands and natural spaces (PDF - 1406K). Addressing crime and safety issues. Forest Research, Farnham.

O’Brien, E. (2004). A sort of magical place (PDF-2525K). People's experiences of woodlands in northwest and southeast England. Forest Research, Farnham.

Tabbush, P and O’Brien E (2003). Health and Well-being: Trees, Woodlands and Natural Spaces (PDF-6483K). Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.

O’Brien, E and Claridge, J (Eds) (2002). Trees are company: social science research into woodlands and the natural environment (PDF-2557K). Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.

O’Brien, E. (2002). Current and future directions for social forestry research. In Trees are company: Social science research into woodlands and the natural environment (PDF-2557K). E O’Brien and J Claridge (Eds). Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.

Burgess, J and O’Brien, E. (2002). Trees, woods and forests: an exploration of personal and collective values. In Trees are company: Social science research into woodlands and the natural environment (PDF-2557K). E. O’Brien and J Claridge (Eds) Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.

O’Brien, E. (2001). Social Forestry: Questions and issues (PDF-1689K). Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.


Lawrence, A. Ambrose-Oji, B and O’Brien, L. 2014. FES health check of community engagement. Report to Forestry Commission Scotland.

Morris, J. Marzano, M. Dandy, N. O’Brien, L. 2012. Forestry, sustainable behaviours and behaviour change – setting the scene. Summary Report. Forest Research Farnham.

Morris, J. Marzano, M. Dandy, N. O’Brien, L. 2012. Forestry, sustainable behaviours and behaviour change – discussion paper. Forest Research Farnham.

Carter, C. O’Brien, L and Morris, J. (2011). Enabling positive change: evaluation of the Neroche Landscape Partnership Scheme (PDF-1261K). Report to the Forestry Commission.

O’Brien, L and Lovell, B. (2011). A Review of Forest Education Initiative in Britain (PDF-1459K). Report to the Forestry Commission

O’Brien, L and Marzano, M. (2010). Volunteering in and for Scotland’s forests (PDF-809K). Report to Forestry Commission Scotland.

Stewart, A and O’Brien, L. (2010). Inventory of social evidence and practical programmes related to trees, woods and forests and urban/peri urban regeneration, place making and place shaping (PDF-2710K). Report to the Forestry Commission.

O’Brien, L and Morris, J. (2010). Estimating visitor and visit numbers to woodlands (PDF-1237K). Report to the Forestry Commission.

Lovell, R. O’Brien, L. Owen, R. (2010). Review of the research evidence in relation to the role of trees, woods and forest in formal education and learning (PDF-512K). Report to the Forestry Commission.

O’Brien, L., Williams, K and Stewart A. (2010). Urban health and health inequalities and the role of trees, woods and forests in Britain: a review (PDF-2172K). Report to the Forestry Commission.

O’Brien, L and Morris, J. (2009). Active England: The Woodland Projects (PDF-2132K). Report to the Forestry Commission, pp 76.