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Community woodlands and community involvement in forestry is a fast evolving and increasingly significant sector. The purpose of this research is to explore how communities and community groups involve themselves in the decision-making and management of woods and forests, and to summarise evidence about the characteristics, scope and importance of community woodlands and forestry in Great Britain.

Research objectives

  1. To understand the range of experiences, meanings and outcomes of community forestry in Scotland, Wales and England
  2. Investigate the detail of the governance arrangements in different contexts and how these relate to community engagement and empowerment
  3. Describe the development of woodland-based enterprise and social enterprise arising from community woodlands and forestry
  4. Document a range of community woodland and forestry case studies
  5. To disseminate key findings and guidance on models for successful community woodlands and forestry.

Results so far

The research to date has:

  • Clarified concepts of community woods and community forestry in Scotland, England and Wales
  • Investigated the community benefits of the National Forest Land Scheme in Scotland
  • Investigated the role of local authorities in community forestry
  • Classified the range of groups and woodland management approaches that exist in different country contexts
  • Reviewed the evidence of benefits and outcomes from different forms of community forestry
  • Described and characterised community woodland-based enterprises and social enterprises
  • Facilitated and documented the support needs of community woodland groups in England
  • Undertaken more than 40 case studies


  • This research started in 2008 and is ongoing.
  • Case study research is ongoing
  • Analysis of the benefits of community woodlands and approaches to woodland management is ongoing.


Dr Bianca Ambrose-Oji

Funders and partners

This work is funded by the Forestry Commission with additional support from:

  • Forestry Commission Scotland
  • Community Woodlands Association
  • Llais Y Goedwig
  • The Mersey Forest
  • Small Woods Association
  • Silvanus Trust
  • The Woodland Trust

Community woodland enterprises and social enterprises

There is increasing policy interest in the development of woodland-based social enterprises, as well as the development of businesses by community groups and community woodland owners. Empirical evidence from our case study research and early scoping work including 19 case studies (Stewart 2011) across Wales, Scotland and England shows that:

  • Around 15-20% of community woodlands are developing some kind of enterprise
  • Enterprises and social enterprises involve the sale of products (firewood is significant) as well as services (education is significant)
  • Community benefit enterprises are staffed by community members and generate benefits for the local community
  • Not all woodland-based social enterprises are community based
  • Social enterprises in community woodlands may generate social and environmental benefits beyond the local community
  • A variety of business model are employed including open market trading, as well as working in partnership with larger business concerns
  • A majority of community groups continue to rely on fund raising as their main source of income.

The main barriers to enterprise and social enterprise development are identified as:

  • start-up costs
  • need for woodland management skills and training
  • need for business management skills
  • community understanding and ability to act on legal issues
    dealing with bureaucracy.


The research to date is published as:

Woodland based-social enterprise (PDF-186 KB)

Ambrose-Oji, B., Lawrence, A. and Stewart, A. (2014). “Community based forest enterprises in Britain: two organising typologies.” Forest Policy and Economics

Stewart, A. (2011). Woodland related Social Enterprise: Enabling factors and barriers to success. Farnham, Surrey, Forest Research

O’Brien, E. (2005). “Bringing together ideas of social enterprise, education and community woodland: the Hill Holt Wood approach.” Scottish Forestry 59: 7-14


Bianca Ambrose-Oji

Impacts of community woodlands

A popular hypothesis is that community forestry produces more and diverse benefits compared to other forms of forestry. Empirical evidence from our case study research as well as a review of all available published and grey literature tests this, and revealed the following.

Community forests and woodlands have been established through:

  • Policy-led approaches which address regeneration of socially and environmentally deprived areas
  • Community-led approaches which can be economically, aesthetically or ideologically motivated
  • Conservation-led approaches through which environmental NGOs seek to achieve their objectives by interaction with local communities.

Five different kinds of community woodlands emerge which we characterise as:

  • Urban regeneration: Often public land with community involvement in management
  • Community resource: Woodland owned and managed by the community
  • Economic partnership: Land owned by others and managed by the community for economic benefits
  • Community place: Land owned by others and managed by community volunteers, often for conservation
  • Lifestyle alternative: Group works and lives in the woodland

The benefits generated by these different kinds of community woodlands are likely to vary. However, few initiatives invest in thorough evidence gathering, so comparative assessment is difficult. The evidence base is incomplete and largely project-driven. Much of the evidence records outputs not outcomes. Economic evaluation is associated with urban regeneration and community place, probably mirroring the requirements of funders. Qualitative evidence for empowerment and enhanced community cohesion and creativity suggests a wider range of intangible benefits.

The research to date is published as:
Lawrence, A. and B. Ambrose-Oji (2014). “Beauty, friends, power, money: navigating the impacts of community woodlands.” Geographical Journal.

Lawrence, A. and B. Ambrose-Oji (2011). Understanding the effects of community woodlands and forests in Great Britain. Proceedings of 18th Commonwealth Forestry Conference. Edinburgh. 28 June – 2 July 2010.


Dr Bianca Ambrose-Oji

Community woodland group Case Studies

There are now over 650 community woodland groups in England, Scotland and Wales. Groups are keen to learn from each other’s experiences, whilst policy stakeholders seek evidence of the effectiveness of past and current policy. However, evidence about community forestry tended to exist in a variety of forms that were difficult to compare.

Published in August 2013 “A framework for sharing experiences of community woodland groups” provides a robust approach to describing community woodland models in the documentation of case studies and the sharing of experiences and learning. Five dimensions of community forestry are included:

  1. History of the group
  2. Institutional context
  3. Group organisation and structures
  4. External links
  5. Resources, including the woodland as well as skills, knowledge and finance

The framework enables comparisons between case studies, and between different points in time within a single case study. The rigorous approach to description also helps evaluation and impact assessment of community-delivered forestry.

A set of 40 case studies were undertaken using the framework, and are in the process of publication.

A collection of case studies commissioned by Forest Research between 2009-2012 in collaboration with colleagues from Llais y Goedwig, the Community Woodlands Association, Coed Lleol, the Small Woods Association, and Silvanus Trust, includes:


Dr Bianca Ambrose-Oji

Forestry Staff Bianca Ambrose Oji.509e510b.fill 600x600 1
Bianca Ambrose-Oji

Science group leader