ESCom Visions for Woodland Expansion Workshop

Tuesday, 4th April 2017

Society faces the challenge of balancing a wide range of aspirations in order to achieve a sustainable relationship with the environment. Visions, or ‘plausible and coherent descriptions of the future’, offer positive frameworks which can help to stimulate dialogue and build consensus around shared priorities, in the face of these diverse aspirations.

On the 22nd March, ESCom and the ECCI hosted a workshop bringing together a range of 20 practitioners and policy makers involved in forestry, conservation and land use in Scotland, to discuss alternative visions for how woodland expansion might take place, and what kinds of actions might help to achieve those visions.

The participants were grouped to focus on one particular vision throughout the day, and sessions were broken down into three parts:

  1. Feedback on the current vision descriptions
    Aim: to validate the visions created by the document analysis, and check that they are clear, consistent, and representative
  2. How upland and lowland landscapes might look under different visions
    Aim: to think about the woodland types that would ideally be prioritised under each vision, where they might be located, and what benefits, or ecosystem services, they could provide
  3. How each vision might be achieved
    Aim: to think through all the different governance mechanisms that could help to achieve woodland expansion under each different vision. Governance can be defined as all the formal and informal institutions, rules, mechanisms and processes of collective decision making. It includes incentives, regulations, policies, behaviour, education and more.

The workshop forms an important part of PhD research being undertaken at the University of Edinburgh, in collaboration with NERC, Forest Research, and the Scottish Forestry Trust. The research aims to use different stakeholder visions to understand the synergies and trade-offs generated by woodland expansion, and how governance influences woodland expansion and ecosystem services.

A document analysis of 53 existing policies and plans has revealed that there are at least five distinct visions for how woodland expansion and forestry might develop over the next century (Fig. 1). These visions formed the focal point of the workshop.

Figure 1. The 5 visions produced from a document analysis of 53 existing policy and plan documents.

Breakout sessions worked around visual materials made up of landscapes and ‘tiles’ representing different ecosystem services, woodland types and potential ‘actors’, or decision makers, with regards to land use. The landscapes used on the day were altered versions of open access images created for Adaptation Scotland's Climate Ready Places ( by Scriberia, who also produced the woodland, ecosystem service and governance tiles. If you're interested you can find out more about their work here:

The day, facilitated by Osbert Lancaster (, and run with the invaluable help of a combined University of Edinburgh and Forest Research team, finished with a whole group exercise, and a panel discussion. Participants highlighted the positivity of the discussions generated, as well as the valuable role of the visual materials in contributing to a lively workshop process. It was also emphasised that there is a continued need to take account of trade-offs generated by land use decisions, and that increasingly integrated thinking around land use is required if multiple objectives are to be achieved.


Next steps:

The day has generated a large amount of rich information, which will be analysed and used to inform three ongoing objectives of the PhD research:

  1. Academic paper and Research Note on Woodland Visions
  2. Ecosystem service modelling to highlight the potential benefits and trade-offs generated by woodland expansion under each vision
  3. Agent-based modelling to test the effect of the suggested governance mechanisms on woodland expansion and ecosystem services

In particular, it is hoped that the Research Note summarising the process of creating the visions and the results generated from the workshop, will be made available in the summer to support ongoing dialogue with regards to woodland expansion in Scotland.


If you’re interested in finding more about the research, email or tweet @vee_burton