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Behaviour of private land owners and managers

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This long term programme of research aims to provide insights about the motivations, decision making processes and actions of owners, managers and businesses to support woodland creation and resilient forest management.

Around 75% of forest land in Great Britain is owned privately. A majority of these private owners have holdings of less than 10 hectares in size. If they do not manage the forest themselves, owners use small scale private contractors and businesses to undertake forestry operations. As well as considering existing woodland, national governments have identified the need to expand forest cover through the creation of new woodland. Private owners of land, including farmers, are a key target. Understanding the behaviour of so many owners, managers and businesses presents a significant challenge to those organisations and agencies looking to support woodland creation, sustainable and resilient forest management, as well as those developing measures and strategies to influence behaviour.

Research objectives

  • To understand the decision-making processes and land-use strategies that underpin the forestry related behaviour of private landowners, managers and small forestry businesses
  • To investigate understanding of, and acceptability of management practices that would deliver improved forest resilience
  • To identify innovative forest management approaches and practices amongst private landowners that address current challenges to forest resilience
  • To clarify how best the forestry sector can engage and communicate with private landowners, managers and small businesses to achieve policy goals.


Understanding different kinds of owners and managers

  • Private landowners can be characterised using typologies and segmentation models that include their management objectives and values.

  • Typologies and segmentation models are linked with adaptive behaviour, but they do not wholly explain actual behaviour or account for the nuance of responses to environmental change. There is potential for DEFRA’s behaviour model (based on Theory of Reasoned Action/Theory of Planned Behaviour) to provide additional insights.

  • Land management decisions are influenced by a wide range of social, economic, environmental and operational considerations. These multiple dimensions must be considered if engagement with land owners is to be effective in terms of policy delivery.

Forest resilience: Understanding and action

  • Many owners recognise climate change is likely to affect their woodlands, but just as many are uncertain of the vulnerability of their woodlands. Consequently private owners are not generally convinced of the need to adapt their forestry practices.

  • Resilience is a difficult concept with multiple understandings and is largely associated with perceptions of risk and the perceived efficacy of response. The risks associated with changing management practice or creating new woodland may be assessed as greater than the risk of “business as usual”.

  • Forest pests and tree diseases are considered most immediate problems. Deer and squirrels are a particular problem recognised by owners, whilst pathogens and invertebrate pests are more often the concern of professional managers and small businesses.

  • The limited evidence of innovation amongst owners and managers is related to experimental plantings of novel species.

Uptake and impact of advice

  • Information and advice is cited as a major barrier to decision making and risk assessment in the context of resilience.

  • Trusted and influential sources of information and advice with the potential to impact behaviour include: other woodland owners, forestry agents and consultants, organisations such as the Royal Forestry Society, the Forestry Commission and Forest Research.

  • Advice relating to pest and disease outbreaks dominates what owners and managers find easy to locate and use.

  • However, information, advice and knowledge dealing with longer term resilience issues, e.g. responses to climate change, is more difficult to access and apply. Owners and managers suggest this advice is contradictory and confusing, or neglects economic and social/cultural considerations, so it seems unrelated to their small-scale holdings and operations. Uncertainty about such guidance represents a risk and therefore a barrier to changing practice.

  • Multiple forms of information and advice, delivered through different platforms, including face-to-face discussion, field visits, demonstrations, web-based resources and printed documents, together contribute to owner, manager and small business decision making. An assessment pathway, or different “stages of change” supported by these resources, builds confidence and feelings of being able to act that can lead to behaviour change.

Outputs (2015-2019)

Ambrose-Oji, B., 2019, Characterising land managers to support woodland creation efforts in Scotland, Research Summary produced for Forestry Scotland and the Central Scotland Green Network.

Ambrose- Oji, B., Atkinson, G. and Petr, M. 2019. Woodland managers’ understanding of resilience and their future information needs. Research Note FCRN036, Forestry Commission, Edinburgh, p. 10.

Ambrose- Oji, B., Atkinson, G., Pecurul, M. and Petr, M. 2018. Differentiating between land managers for understanding of “resilience”, and factors influencing decision making. Forest Research, Farnham, Surrey, p. 38.

O'Brien, L., Ambrose-Oji, B., Hemery, G., Petrokofsky, G., and Raum, S. 2018, Payments for ecosystem services, land manager networks and social learning. Forest Research, Farnham 

Hemery, G, Petrokofsky, G, Ambrose-Oji, B, Edwards, D, O’Brien, L, Tansley, C and Townsend, M 2018 Shaping the Future of Forestry: Report of the British Woodlands Survey 2017. Sylva Foundation, Oxford. 

Atkinson, G and Ambrose- Oji, B 2017 What do forest managers want to know about adaptation? Forest Research, Farnham, Surrey.

Ambrose- Oji, B., Pecurul, M., and O’Brien, L., 2017, Understanding small woodland owners and managers in the UK: Evidence to promote resilient behaviour change? Presentation at IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress international conference Freiburg, September 18 th – 22nd 2017

Ambrose- Oji, B & Tidey, P, 2017, Woodland Creation Grant Uptake Study. Forest Research report to Forestry Commission England. 30pp

Ambrose- Oji, B., 2016, Reaching New Audiences. Evaluation of knowledge events for small forestry businesses. Forest Research report to Forestry Commission England. 61pp

Hemery, G., Petrokofsky, G., Ambrose-Oji, B., Atkinson, G., Broadmeadow, M., Edwards, D., Harrison, C., Lloyd, S., Mumford, J., O’Brien, L., Reid, C., Seville, M., Townsend, M., Weir, J., and Yeomans, A., 2015, Awareness, action and aspiration among Britain’s forestry community relating to environmental change: Report of the British Woodlands Survey 2015. 32pp

Outputs (2010-2014)

Landowners’ attitudes to woodland creation and management in the UK: a review of current evidence

Prospects for new productive woodland in Scotland: Insights from stakeholders

Human dimensions of adaptive forest management

Woodfuel: social and economic dimensions


This research work is ongoing as part of Forest Research’s current Science and Innovation Strategy and cuts across Programme 1, Programme 3 and Programme 4.


Bianca Ambrose-Oji

Funders and partners

Work on this research is funded by the Forestry Commission Great Britain, Forestry Commission England, and the devolved Forestry Commission organisations. Partners include the Sylva Foundation.

Forestry Commission policy

Devolved forestry policy is widely committed to supporting forestry on private land, expanding the woodland resource, and ensuring resilient forest management amongst forest and woodland owners, managers and businesses. Policy support is set out in the following documents:

Defra and Forestry Commission England’s policy statement and Corporate Plan

The Forestry Commission Scotland’s’ Scottish Forest Strategy and Implementation Plan

NRW and Welsh Government’s Woodlands for Wales and Action Plan

What's of interest

Sylva Foundation, British Woodland Survey series

Behavioural policy ‘nudges’ to encourage woodland creation for climate change mitigation

Behaviour change in the forestry sector

Related pages

Useful sites

Behaviour of private land owners and managers
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Behaviour of private land owners and managers
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Principal Social Scientist
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