The long-term nature of woodland growth makes it difficult to measure and monitor. Woodland creation is advocated by multiple policy documents across Scotland and the UK. I used a systematic-review methodology to identify all relevant research on woodland creation in a UK context, and characterised the evidence base, showing where the evidence is strongest, where there are knowledge gaps, and what this means for woodland expansion research and policy.
Articulating values for woodland expansion
I developed a mixed-method approach to explore how stakeholders involved in forestry, conservation and land use ideally envisage woodland expansion happening in Scotland over the next century. This combined a document analysis, full-day workshop, and semi-structured interviews. The approach elicited five distinct ‘visions’, or ‘positive descriptions of an ideal future’ for how woodland expansion might unfold.
Exploring the effects of land use change
I am currently using an open-source agent-based model to link these stakeholder ‘visions’ to previously developed scenarios of climate and socio-economic change. The model takes into account individual land manager behaviour and will allow exploration of the trade-offs and synergies generated by land use change.
The direction I’ve taken with my research was strongly influenced by my first reading of ‘Feral’ by George Monbiot. Through it, I first heard about Trees for Life, the charity working to restore the Caledonian Forest in the Scottish Highlands. A volunteer-week planting trees and MSc dissertation in collaboration with Trees for Life, and a stint as a Spatial Analyst with Forest Research later, I found myself on the PhD path. Although rewilding is just a small aspect of my PhD research, I’m passionate about the idea of a more dynamic view of conservation, and think there is great potential for landscape ecology research to help make it a reality in the UK, with benefits to both biodiversity and society.