Trees and woodlands are incredibly important to many aspects of life. Well managed woodlands are home to more wildlife than other types of habitat, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help prevent flooding, and woodlands and forests provide important cultural and recreational spaces. Wood is also a sustainable product, and can be used for everything from fuel to furniture.
However, the Forestry Commission estimates that only 54% of woodlands in Great Britain are actively managed. The remaining 46% (almost 600,000 ha) of undermanaged or unmanaged woodlands are less biodiverse, less accessible and unproductive. Often these woods are not well managed because it isn’t considered to be economically viable to do so.
Community and social enterprises can offer new and innovative approaches to woodland stewardship, creation and management. This “common good” focus is often defined by an approach to woodlands as sites for multiple activities and to create multiple benefits, as opposed to a focus on “just” forestry.
Some approaches are led by the potential of woodland as a sustainable resource, such as Knoydart Forest Trust in Scotland which is led by the local community, or Blackbark in Calderdale, a worker co-op committed to regenerative woodland management. Some approaches focus on the recreational and educational potential of woodlands, such as the network of bicycle paths and educational opportunities created by the Abriachan Forest Trust near Loch Ness, or the vibrant urban woodland in a closed cemetery maintained by the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.
Shared Assets has carried out a significant amount of research into both social enterprise and community led models of woodland management. Our reports for Forest Research and the Forestry Commission can be found below, and explore the information available, the challenges, and the opportunities that common good models of woodland management can offer.
We’re pleased to be part of the partnership that is delivering the Making Local Woods Work pilot support programme, and were founder members of the Woodland Social Enterprise Network. Much of our policy work has relevance to people working in or on woodlands, especially our work on the challenges that the planning system can present to those wanting to live on the land. We have produced this infographic guide to the different tenure choices that woodland enterprises have.
We would love to do more research into the particular challenges and opportunities for community and social enterprise woodland management: to further explore and understand the scale and type of existing and potential business and governance models that exist. Our research into local authority woodlands in England highlighted a number of specific challenges that local councils face when making decisions about the future of their woods: we would relish the opportunity to work with an authority considering the future of a number of woodland sites.
Scroll down to the posts below to read some of our latest work on woodlands projects across the country.
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This short report offers a brief review of the policy, tools and guidance on available for woodland social enterprises considering different options for the ownership of woodlands. It covers England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and was funded by the Making Local Woods Work Programme. It is accompanied by this open-access spreadsheet which details all the resources we found – we’d welcome additions!
This report, for the Making Local Woods Work programme, looks at the tenurial arrangements across the cohort of woodland social enterprises (WSEs) involved in the Making Local Woods Work programme. It examines the different “bundles” of rights that different types of WSE hold, and draws some initial conclusions about how best to support WSEs. Shared Assets collaborated with Wild Resources Ltd to produce this work.
This report explores the impact of the planning system on UK woodland social enterprises. It summarises the key parts of the planning system in all 4 UK countries, and outlines some of the main challenges that WSEs have with the system. It was commissioned by the Making Local Woods Work programme, and complements nicely with our previous report on Planning for Common Good Land Use, but takes a deep dive into the often complex world of planning and forestry. It consists of three main elements:
This report was commissioned by Natural Resources Wales to better understand the woodland social enterprise sector in Wales. Findings include the landscape of the sector, what enterprises are doing, and what potential there is for the sector to grow. [Read the full report here]
This report was commissioned by Forestry Commission Scotland to better understand the woodland social enterprise sector in Scotland. Findings include the landscape of the sector, what enterprises are doing, and what potential there is for the sector to grow. [Read the full report here]
This report was commissioned by the Forestry Commission to better understand the current woodland social enterprise sector in England. It provides evidence of a fledgling but very diverse sector with significant innovation. It discusses the definition of “woodland social enterprise”, the potential size of this sector, and suggests indicators for measuring future growth. [Read the full report here]
This report was commissioned by Forest Research, and reviews the data available on the management of woodlands by local authorities in England. The report focuses on the extent to which community groups and social enterprises are involved in their management. [Read the full report here]
Our Director Mark Walton supports the recent Environment Committee’s call for a greater Government commitment to forestry, and points to the Making Local Woods Work programme as a demonstration of how woods can work for everyone.
Most woods today simply will not survive if they are left to ‘be wild’ and so it is important to re-frame woodland ‘management’ as woodland ‘restoration’. However there is a commonly held view that ‘restoration’ means ‘walling off’, a letting-alone to be natural and wild. In this view anything more forceful than walking the dog in woodland seems overly intrusive and damaging.
Our associate Luke Whaley is travelling to the Dolomites of the Southern Alps in Italy, seeing what lessons can be learned from historic community forest governance structures. Watch this space for updates on his travels!
How have community forest governance structures in the Italian Dolomites changed over the years? How have they engaged with the government, and each other? Our associate Luke Whaley’s next blog explains more…