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Social dimensions of natural colonisation

This research aims 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.  This is being achieved by addressing the following 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?


  • A Rapid Evidence Review of the social dimensions of natural colonisation
  • Semi-structured interviews with a range of public, private and third sector land managers across different site types
  • Thematic and content analysis of data using NVivo software

Findings and Recommendations

Preliminary findings year 1 (2021/22)

  • 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 year 2 (2022/23) will expand on initial work by expanding on the current sample and diving deeper into the data to identify those factors affecting different land managers decisions to use natural colonisation as a viable woodland expansion strategy.

Research Status
Principal Social Scientist
Forestry Staff Bianca Ambrose Oji.509e510b.fill 600x600 1
Funding & partners
  • defralogo2013 smdefra
  • Forestry Commission