Approaches to involving people in forest planning at two scales

Authors and Affiliations: 

Tom Butlin, The Mersey Forest

Susannah Gill, The Mersey Forest

Paul Nolan, The Mersey Forest

Caitlin Robinson, The Mersey Forest

Luc Boerboom, University of Twente

Philipp Vogt, kontext U


Engaging members of the community in forest planning is crucial to its success in urban and peri-urban environments. It is such areas, near to people, where multiple ecosystem services can be especially important. These are valued, to different extents, by the community members.

In this paper we look at meaningful ways to engage people at two different scales in the planning of forests, in order to deliver ecosystem services that are valued by local communities. The two case studies are: the Sefton Coast woodlands (covering an area of 47 km2) and The Mersey Forest (covering an area of 1,370 km2).

Sefton Coast Woodlands

The Sefton Coast woodlands exemplify an area where informed community members and other stakeholders typically value many of the services that their local ecosystem provides. But it is often not possible to deliver all of these services to ideal levels and in ideal locations, especially when different stakeholders have different views, partly because not all services are compatible with one another. Reaching consensus on management responses can therefore be very difficult, with opposing, contradictory views often held and expressed vehemently.

A spatial multi-criteria evaluation framework, as presented here, can help to add structure to discussions, aiding mutual understanding and promoting compromise. If handled sensitively it can be seen as a more impartial evidence base for management decisions.

The Mersey Forest

At 1,370 km2 and with 1.7 million inhabitants, it is a challenge to engage communities in a meaningful way on The Mersey Forest Plan – a long term strategic plan to guide tree and woodland planting and management. Yet the views of local communities can help to shape and strengthen the Plan, and are essential to its delivery.

The community consultation approach for the recently updated Mersey Forest Plan was designed to reflect the scale that the Plan covers and to offer a range of ways for people to engage with the Plan. The main community consultation centred around an online and offline mapping campaign. An interactive online map allowed people to add locations where they: (a) love trees and woodlands, (b) would like to see more planted, or (c) would like to see improvements made to sites. They were also asked to submit comments as to why they had made these suggestions.

The comments submitted were analysed to see the types of words that people used, and to relate these to the policies contained within The Mersey Forest Plan and to green infrastructure functions. More generally, the comments submitted have informed the final version of The Mersey Forest Plan and will be used in the longer term by the team and partners to support tree planting and community engagement activities in particular locations. The interactive map will be kept live beyond the consultation on the Plan, as it has been recognised as a valuable way to engage a large community, covering a large area, on an on-going basis.