Private landowners’ approaches to planting and managing forests


The delivery of forest policy through privately owned forests is a significant challenge in countries like the UK where much of the forest is owned by non-state landowners. Understanding the decisions and behaviour of private landowners is therefore a critical task.

For this research we conducted interviews and focus-groups / workshops with land-managers across the UK, along with reviewing considerable secondary information.

Research objectives

  • To understand the decision-making processes and land-use strategies of private landowners in relation to forestry in the UK.
  • To identify innovative forest management approaches and practices amongst private landowners.
  • To explore the social and cultural influences on the use of private land for forestry in the UK.
  • To clarify how the state forestry sector can best engage with private landowners so as to achieve its policy goals.

Results so far

Literature reports that private landowners have a generally negative attitudes towards woodland creation and that many woodland owners see themselves as actively managing their woodlands, in contrast to official perceptions and statistics. The evidence also shows land management decisions to be more differentiated within the socio-cultural, multipurpose landscape than has perhaps been generally acknowledged.

Land management decisions are influenced by a wide range of social, economic, environmental and operational considerations. Engagement with this sector must consequently include multiple dimensions, moving beyond established narrowly-defined interventions, if it is to be effective in terms of policy delivery.

Private managers are not generally convinced of the need to adapt their forestry practices (such as planting choices) in the face of climate change. More immediate problems, such as tree pests and diseases create more pressing uncertainties.

The owners of private woodlands are difficult to identify, and sometimes wish to avoid identification. However, a systematic approach to identification which draws on both existing data and local forestry social networks for information should be able to identify three-quarters or more of owners in a given landscape.

Private landowners can be segmented along various lines including their management objectives and values. A viable alternative is categorisation in relation to their connectivity to professional social networks and their openness to forestry messages.


This research programme is ongoing.


Bianca Ambrose-Oji

Funders and partners

Work on this research programme is funded by the Forestry Commission Great Britain. Closely related projects are funded by a number of other state bodies such as the devolved Forestry Commission organisations and the Environment Agency. It is part of Forest Research’s Forest governance: planning, partnerships and participation research.

Forestry Commission policy

The Forestry Commission is widely committed to supporting forestry on private land:

Defra and FCE Government Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement
Scottish Government’s rationale for woodland expansion

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