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Assessing the impact of different management interventions on perceived woodland benefits

RD 1.3.2 Ecosystem services provision (SEFARI)


The importance of ecosystems and biodiversity to human well-being is now well established as they provide benefits such as timber, pollination and coastal protection. 

It is also acknowledged that the goods and services from ecosystems are best conceptualised as being co-produced through the interactions of humans and nature, and because of this, different choices in site management will impact who will benefit or disbenefit, and how.

To understand how people perceive the benefits from different woodland management approaches we conducted a series of deliberative scenario workshops across Scotland - where participants were able to share their knowledge, learn from each other and discuss issues. In these workshops stakeholders discussed the perceived impacts of different management options on a suite of ecosystem services. Such an approach allows woodland managers to explore different management interventions in a holistic, systematic, and deliberative way, while taking into consideration a diversity of views and values from a range of stakeholders.


Work Completed


Woodland managers are being asked to manage woodlands for multiple benefits. But how do the different management approaches impact on the benefits or dis-benefits to local people, visitors or even wider society? This is particularly important when people often have different views, values and preferences on how woodlands should be managed. In order to understand how people perceive the benefits from different woodland management approaches we developed a novel deliberative method using scenario analysis, where a diverse group of local experts could come together and share, learn about, and discuss their different experiences, perspectives and knowledge.

In the workshops we explored three future management approaches (hypothetical scenarios), each based on: i) a strong focus on biodiversity conservation, ii) a strong focus on people engagement and iii) a low budget scenario, where only management actions to comply with legal requirements were conducted. These hypothetical scenarios were compared to scenarios of the past, present, and the woodland’s future management plan.  We conducted the scenario workshops in six woodland sites, located in three areas in Scotland: Cumbernauld (North Lanarkshire), Glen Creran (Argyll and Bute) and Loch Arkaig (Highlands). 

We purposefully invited diverse local experts from different backgrounds and perspectives to individually score how each scenario performed against each benefit indicators (Table 1 in the results section lists the benefit indicators). Scoring was then followed by several facilitated deliberations. Each workshop concluded with the participants developing their own preferred scenario for the woodland site, which we hope could direct future management.


The workshops used deliberation, a group-based form of participation which enables social exchange, reflection, learning and meaningful debate. This approach allowed participants to share knowledge, learn and discuss together how different management interventions could impact people with different viewpoints, experiences, and values. It is a useful tool to help make more inclusive and equitable decisions in complex social-ecological systems.

We also conducted a cross-site analysis of the findings from the six workshops. Whilst we must be cautious in drawing any generalisations on the impact of different management interventions on woodland benefits overall from small group numbers (between 5-9 per workshop, and 41 in total), and such diverse sites, we did identify some interesting findings.

Table 1 displays the median scores for the six scenarios across the 11 benefit indicators. Workshop participants were asked to rate how each scenario performed against each benefit indicator, from 1-not at all, to 10-very much.

Table 1

A key finding is that a lack of management, such as that in the low budget scenario, is perceived as very poor for ecosystem benefits (evident by the low scores in Table 1). The local experts felt woodland sites need to be actively managed to enable people to co-produce benefits such as place attachment (the emotional bond between a person and a place), mental restoration and employment.

In addition, while three of the future scenarios - management plan, biodiversity conservation, and people engagement, all appeared to perform very similarly overall (Table 1). There were still some additional interesting findings, as well as potential trade-offs and synergies. For example:

  • Managing woodlands for people engagement had a perceived positive effect across all sites on learning, knowledge and skills.
  • Community engagement programmes were seen as very important for people who did not commonly use woodlands, and as a way of addressing environmental justice issues, such as the fair and equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens.
  • Community engagement was also seen as critical for the delivery of benefits such as place attachment, mental restoration and spirituality. However, it was acknowledged that a balance needed to be struck in sites with limited access by providing spaces where people can escape any ‘busyness’, to find tranquility and solitude.
  • It was considered important that urban and peri-urban woodland sites are well managed and maintained in ways that enable people to use them and feel safe.
  • Managing woodlands with a focus on biodiversity conservation was perceived to have an overall negative effect on timber extraction and employment/income across all the sites. This scenario also raised concerns regarding the removal of non-native trees such as beech or culturally important trees for biodiversity conservation purposes.

Actively engaging people with woodlands through dedicated programmes was perceived to have a positive impact on opportunities for learning, skills and training.

Whilst the cross-site analysis produced some generic findings it also highlighted the importance of understanding the local context with regards to ecosystem service co-production and incorporating local knowledge in decision-making, and more location specific analysis can be found in the six individual reports in the document section.



We would like to thank all the site managers at the six woodland sites and all the local experts who participated so generously to the workshops.


This study provides site managers with a systematic, holistic, and deliberative methodology to help them explore the potential impacts of different management interventions on woodland benefits from different viewpoints, values and perspectives.  It also demonstrated the benefits of deliberation in addressing complex environmental issues.

The deliberative workshops facilitated shared learning and understanding and proved effective in enabling a range of values and preferences, from the individual to societal, to be expressed and discussed openly.  We observed that workshop discussions quickly moved from individual preferences to the common good. It has been suggested that it is these shared or collective values (the values people hold for the communities where they live, rather than personal or individual preferences) that enable robust, more equitable and inclusive decision-making.

We therefore hope that site managers will begin to use more deliberative methods to inform woodland management as it has the potential to provide more inclusive, democratic and equitable benefits for society.

Project Partners


Cumbernauld Living Landscape

Arkaig Community Forest

Loch Arkaig Pine Forest

Glasdrum Wood National Nature Reserve

Glen Creran Woods


Related Links

Research Papers