Towards a research agenda for woodland expansion in Scotland: Haydn Thomas asks how well do we understand woodland benefits?

Friday, 24th April 2015

A paper now in press in the academic journal Forest Ecology and Management

It is widely understood that woodlands are beneficial. They provide a host of ecosystem services from weekend walks to water purification, are a cherished and valuable habitat type, and offer a variety of economic opportunities. Public opinion, international policy and the Scottish Government are also highly supportive of woodland creation, with a target to increase woodland cover from 18% towards 25% of land cover in Scotland by 2050.

However, despite these oft-cited benefits, rates of woodland creation remain well below targets. This might be due to particular attitudes or behaviours amongst private landowners – for if Scotland is to increase woodland cover much of this must take place on private land – or perhaps because in reality woodland benefits do not match up to expectations. We set out to answer these questions by synthesising literature on woodland expansion in Scotland.

We focused on three areas of research: woodland benefits, landowner motivations, and benefit evaluation. We found that the benefits of woodland expansion are well articulated in both policy proposals and academic literature, but that there is a need to understand how benefits vary by beneficiary and social context. As expected, landowner attitudes and objectives are critical to woodland expansion, and do not always match up with theoretical benefits. Despite 25 years of woodland grant schemes in Scotland, it is unclear how landowner attitudes have changed since their introduction in the late 1980s, while social norms have been largely ignored. Finally, research into the outcome of woodland expansion schemes in Scotland has been extremely limited; in short, we have little idea whether they are actually producing benefits. This is therefore a clear research need, both to justify public investment and to improve future woodland expansion.  

For further information or reprints feel free to contact Haydn Thomas (