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There are two main approaches to visitor monitoring:

  • General population surveys of individuals at their home. This approach is employed for Scotland’s People and Nature Survey, the Welsh Outdoor Recreation Survey, the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (England) and the Public Opinion of Forestry surveys. (Tables 6.1 to 6.6).
  • Surveying and counting of visitors to a specific area or woodland. On-site surveying has been employed for the All Forests surveys. In addition, the Northern Ireland Forest Service keep records of visitors who pay an admission charge to their sites. (Tables 6.7 to 6.8).

There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, related to factors such as representativeness, feasibility and cost; each approach provides different types of information.

In general, on-site studies provide information on visitor interaction with local or specific woodland areas and include all categories of visitors to a site, regardless of their country of residence and interests.

In contrast, general population studies are limited to residents of a certain country or area, are often carried out by market research companies at a national level, and include people who do not visit woodlands.


Data Sources and Methodology

Household surveys

The information shown in Table 6.1 has been obtained from the following general population household surveys.

  • UK Day Visits Surveys (1994, 1996, 1998)
  • GB Day Visits Survey (2002/3)
  • Scottish Recreation Survey (2004 to 2012)
  • England Leisure Visits Survey (2005)
  • Welsh Outdoor Recreation Survey (2008, 2011, 2014)
  • Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (England 2009/10 onwards)
  • Scotland’s People and Nature Survey (2013)

The Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment has also been used to provide information on visitor characteristics in table 6.2. For further information on this survey, see

Estimates of frequency of visits to woodlands in Scotland (Table 6.3) has been produced from Scotland’s People and Nature Survey, that ran from March 2013 to February 2014. Scotland’s People and Nature Survey replaces the Scottish Recreation Survey. Further information on both surveys are available at

The Welsh Outdoor Recreation Survey also provides statistics on visitor characteristics (Table 6.4). More recently, outdoor recreation has been covered by the National Survey in Wales. Further information on the National Survey, and access to earlier results from the Welsh Outdoor Recreation Survey, are available at:

Public Opinion of Forestry Surveys have been run every 2 years by the Forestry Commission. The surveys cover public attitudes to forestry and forestry-related issues, including visits to woodland (Tables 6.5 to 6.6 and Figure 6.1). Further information is available on the previous page.


On-site surveys

All Forests Surveys were run at a sample of Forestry Commission sites in Scotland from 2004 to 2007 and in 2012-13 (Table 6.7), to provide estimates of the numbers of visits to the National Forest Estate in Scotland. An All Forests Survey was also run in Wales in 2004, but is no longer included in Forestry Statistics. More recent estimates of the number of visitors to the National Forest Estate in Scotland has been produced by Forestry Commission Scotland, updating the All Forests Survey estimates using automatic counters and, for sites without counters, using the results from the 2012-13 All Forests Survey and advice from local managers.

Estimates for numbers of visits to the Public Forest Estate in England are provided in the Forestry England Natural Capital Accounts, available at Natural Capital Accounts | Forestry England.

Statistics on the day visitors to Forest Service sites in Northern Ireland where an admission charge is made is provided by the Forest Service. Further information on the Forest Service is available at


Public Access to Woodland

Data on public access to woodland are derived from sources belonging to the Woodland Trust:

  • The Woods for People project created an inventory of accessible woodland in 2004. Annual updates have been undertaken since and the data available to date are included in Table 6.9.
  • The Space for People project analyses information from the Woods for People inventory to produce estimates on the proportion of the population who live close to woods. Full reports have been published, giving data for 2004, 2009, 2012 and 2016. Summary results are in Table 6.10.

Further information is available at



It is notable from Table 6.1 that different surveys have provided some quite different estimates of the aggregate number of visits to woodlands. It is likely that differences in survey design and methodology have contributed to a considerable proportion of the differences in results between these surveys. As the scope of the surveys has evolved over time, the figures in Table 6.1 should not be interpreted as time trends but instead as separate results from each survey.

For England and GB, the 2002/3 GBDVS showed a lower number of visits to woodlands than previous surveys. For England, ELVS 2005 showed an even lower total. It is likely that the use of different market research companies and varying approaches and practices (in-home or telephone interview, changed questionnaire structure, etc) are responsible for a substantial proportion of the differences identified in the table. The questionnaire wording for MENE, starting in 2009/10, was intended to prompt the reporting of more of the short local trips, and this has resulted in a substantial increase in the total woodland visits reported.

Table 6.1 also highlights large differences between UK/GBDVS and later surveys in the estimates for Scotland and Wales, with results for both countries dramatically higher in recent years (and despite the Welsh figure being limited to trips with woodland as main destination). It is again likely that this variation is primarily connected with the change in survey scope, design and methodology (UK and GB Day Visit Surveys until 2002/3, Scottish Recreation Survey for 2004 to 2012, Welsh Outdoor Recreation Survey 2008, 2011 and 2014).

A further inconsistency may have occurred between the Scottish Recreation Survey and Scotland’s People and Nature Survey, resulting in an apparently large increase in the number of woodland visits between 2012 and 2013.  The 2013 estimate uses a new population estimate to gross up the survey results to an estimate of the total number of visits by the population as a whole, and this change has contributed to at least some of the apparent increase.

In common with all sample based surveys, the results from each survey are subject to the effects of chance, depending on the particular survey method used, and the sample achieved, thus confidence limits apply to all results from these surveys. For example, the range of uncertainty around the estimated 62 million visits to woodland in Scotland (by Scottish residents) in 2008, should be within +/-14%, i.e. the true figure is likely to be between around 55 and 69 million.

In the Scottish Recreation Survey, the reports produced by TNS calculate the total number of visits for each month based on the average number of visits in a 4-week recall period, scaled up to the number of days in the month, applied to the Scottish adult population. These estimates are then allocated to trip locations using a data set of individual visit-weighted data. In reports produced by TNS and earlier editions of Forestry Statistics, this allocation was done for each quarter using rounded percentages. From Forestry Statistics 2010 the calculation was changed to use annual unrounded weighted data; this should be more accurate and ensures that “main destination” results add across categories.

The Wales 2008 total is not shown explicitly in the initial reports for WORS 2008. It is calculated from the following figures in the tables: 36.028 million visits in 4 weeks x 13 (the number of 4-week periods in a year) x 14% to woodland (where the 14% is derived, unrounded, from 820/6045 in the weighted results).

For England, woodland visits in MENE were identified in the part of the questionnaire that collected details for one visit per respondent. Appropriate visit weights were applied to each record in this data set, and weighted tables were then produced selecting all visits that included woodland.

Technical reports, providing further information on MENE, ScRS and WORS, are available from relevant websites (see above).


Comparison between household and on-site surveys in Scotland

The aggregate visit number estimates for Forestry Commission Scotland woodland obtained from the on-site All Forests Scotland surveys (9.1 million in 2012-13, Table 6.7) is substantially lower than the estimates derived from the Scottish Recreation Survey (around 27 million for 2012, see Forestry Statistics 2013, Table 6.3).

Although it would be unreasonable to expect that two surveys which employ such differing methods would produce consistent estimates, the magnitude of the difference is notable.

The methodology used in the All Forests Surveys is believed to produce a more reliable estimate of the total number of visits annually to Forestry Commission Scotland woodland.  It is likely that the estimates derived from the Scottish Recreation Survey may include visits to woodlands owned by others (with respondents reporting “Forestry Commission” as the owner, as this is an organisation that they recognise).



Most of the statistics in the Recreation chapter have been previously released in other publications, usually by other organisations. The latest year figures for day visitors to Forest Service sites in Northern Ireland are published for the first time in this release. Figures for earlier years have not been revised from those published in Forestry Statistics 2017.

When originally published by Woodland Trust, Woods for People data for publicly accessible woodland in 2004 included some non-woodland areas. They were revised in 2007, before their first inclusion in Forestry Statistics, to include woodland areas only.

Results for the Scottish Recreation Survey for years up to 2007 (Table 6.1) were amended in 2009 from previously published figures, to incorporate improved weighting procedures.

The Forestry Commission’s revisions policy sets out how revisions and errors are dealt with and can be found at: FC Revisions Policy


Further information

Further information on recreation statistics and access to individual survey reports is available from: Social Statistics – Forest Research.


Release schedule

For information on the release schedules of statistics produced by others, see relevant websites (above).

The next Public Opinion of Forestry survey is expected to run in early 2019, with results available in summer 2019.

“Forestry Statistics 2019” and “Forestry Facts & Figures 2019” will be released on 26 September 2019.

Additional resources

Chapter 6: Recreation

Tools & Resources
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Tools & Resources