Trees and forests in British society - Conference background

Forest policy in Britain

Much forest policy in Britain, as well as the work of the Forestry Commission and other organisations is committed to ensuring the widest possible social benefits are gained from the management of trees, woods and forests on public as well as private land.  This is a particularly challenging task since the relationship society has with trees, woods and forests change over time.  The demands that society places on forestry and the role it is expected to play today is very different from that required by previous generations.

Whilst similar trends might be found in other countries, the social context and story of British forestry is unique. 

Social context 

From relying on forests to provide timber and other products, our increasingly diverse society has moved to a ‘post-productivist’ relationship with natural resources that leads to much broader demands.  In the new millennium trees, woods and forests are expected to contribute to improving health, building resilient communities, and providing options which help adaptation to climate change. 

At the same time the physical and social distinctions  between rural and urban spaces are becoming much more diffuse, with important implications for how trees, woods and forests are perceived and integrated into policy. 

These changing perceptions and societal relationships with woods and trees are marked by an array of responses which include:

  • The evolution of policy and governance systems which cross traditional divisions between rural-urban, central-decentralised, professional-community
  • New forms of engagement between communities or ‘the public’ and other government or third sector organisations
  • A range of practical mitigation actions in both urban and rural areas. 

Scope of conference: New research and policy questions

These changes prompt new questions and the collection of evidence to support new policy directions.  These are the issues which sit at the heart of the conference.

Woods, trees, well-being and diverse social values

An increasing body of evidence shows that woods, trees and forests wide can impact on a wide range of well-being issues, from physical and mental health, as well as learning, social identity and culture.

What does recent learning tell us about these issues?  How can woodlands be used to change individual and community behaviours? What are the best ways to measure or evaluate cultural services? How can practical delivery take account of these lessons and methods?


Economic perspectives have always been important as drivers of policy and decision making processes.  What are the emerging issues for the economics and socio-economics of forestry?  What progress has been made in the development of valuation and evaluation methods of social benefits?  How far has climate change thinking had an impact?

Communities and their woodlands

There is increasing complexity in the way in which community forestry, community woodlands and the wider public are using trees woods and forests in  rural and urban areas of Britain.  What are the lessons learnt from community forestry and woodland management?  What resources and benefits are proving to be of greatest interest?  How are these being used? 

Changing governance of trees and forests

Communities, third sector organisations and business are now playing a more significant role in the evolution and delivery of forest policy.  How is forestry being integrated within decentralised systems of decision making? What mechanisms exist for the wider inclusion of individuals and communities? What is the impact of these changes?

Science policy interface

The move to evidence-based policy has been with us for a decade.  How far have researchers been able to influence policy development?  What is the impact of research in decision making processes?  How are tradeoffs negotiated?

About our research

The Forest Research Social and Economic Research Group (SERG) at the Centre for Human and Ecological Science is the specialist group concerned with developing understanding about the relationships between forestry and society, concentrating on the social and economic dimensions of sustainable forest management.

More information about the present and past work of SERG