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This research aims to understand why different kinds of land managers may or may not be likely to utilise natural colonisation as a tree expansion strategy.

Work conducted in 2021/22 characterised different land managers, their understandings of and attitudes towards natural colonisation, barriers to uptake, and support and information needs.

The research found variation in how natural colonisation is understood by different land managers, as well as in the language used to refer to it as an expansion strategy. Further, it highlighted land managers’ need for knowledge and support in the form of successful examples, guides on best practice, and information about grants.

Following on from these findings, work is being conducted in 2023/24 to explore the language and messaging surrounding natural colonisation, to support more effective engagement and uptake of natural colonisation with different kinds of land managers. Work is also underway to identify which incentive schemes supporting natural colonisation have or have not been taken up by which kinds of land managers and the reasons behind this, to inform future scheme design and delivery.

This is being achieved by addressing the following questions:

  1. How can language and messaging promoting natural colonisation to different kinds of land managers (including farmers and foresters) be more enfranchising and engaging?
  2. Which natural colonisation grants (e.g. EWCO, Woodland Trust, Community Forests) have different land managers taken or not taken up?
  3. What factors have impacted natural colonisation incentive uptake, e.g., message framing, communication strategies, quality of delivery and the influence of advisors had on natural colonisation grant uptake?



  • Workshops with stakeholders to validate land manager characterisation; to understand language and communication around natural colonisation; to understand grant landscape
  • Semi-structured interviews with different land managers to further explore language, messaging, awareness and engagement with grants
  • Thematic and content analysis of data using NVivo software

Findings and Recommendations

Year 1 Research


In 2021/22 the research aimed to understand and characterise different kinds of land managers and why they may or may not be likely to utilise natural colonisation as an expansion strategy. It achieved this by answering the questions:

  1. What are land manager attitudes to, and perceptions of the risks and benefits associated with natural approaches to woodland creation and expansion?
  2. In what contexts do land managers believe natural regeneration/colonisation could be a successful method for creating woodland and adapting to a changing climate and other pressures?
  3. Are there any specific barriers to uptake of these approaches including uncertainty and risk perception, knowledge gaps, timescales, and unmet support needs?

Findings and Recommendations from year 1

The majority of land manager across all types understand natural colonisation as an effective strategy for the provision of biodiversity/natural habitat and nature restoration, rather than to achieve other benefits of woodland creation (e.g. carbon sequestration, timber production).

Land managers were found to either select sites for natural colonisation close to existing areas of woodland, or undertake ‘enrichment’ planting of trees into areas of natural colonisation, as a strategy to spread risk and ensure their objectives for their land were achieved.

Land managers and their advisors require tools and guidance, particularly to support site selection and assess the likely outcomes of natural colonisation processes, relevant to their land holding type and landscape context.

Latest updates

Research in 2023/24 will expand on initial work further understanding those factors affecting different land managers decisions to use natural colonisation as a viable woodland expansion strategy.


Funding & partners
  • Defra logoDefra
  • Forestry Commission