Land use


Trees and woodlands are incredibly important to many aspects of life.  Well managed woodlands are home to more wildlife than other types of habitat, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help prevent flooding, and woodlands and forests provide important cultural and recreational spaces. Wood is also a sustainable product, and can be used for everything from fuel to furniture.

However, the Forestry Commission estimates that only 54% of woodlands in Great Britain are actively managed. The remaining 46% (almost 600,000 ha) of undermanaged or unmanaged woodlands are less biodiverse, less accessible and unproductive. Often these woods are not well managed because it isn’t considered to be economically viable to do so.

Community and social enterprises can offer new and innovative approaches to woodland stewardship, creation and management. This “common good” focus is often defined by an approach to woodlands as sites for multiple activities and to create multiple benefits, as opposed to a focus on “just” forestry.

Some approaches are led by the potential of woodland as a sustainable resource, such as Knoydart Forest Trust in Scotland which is led by the local community, or Blackbark in Calderdale, a worker co-op committed to regenerative woodland management. Some approaches focus on the recreational and educational potential of woodlands, such as the network of bicycle paths and educational opportunities created by the Abriachan Forest Trust near Loch Ness, or the vibrant urban woodland in a closed cemetery maintained by the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park.

Shared Assets has carried out a significant amount of research into both social enterprise and community led models of woodland management. Our reports for Forest Research and the Forestry Commission can be found below, and explore the information available, the challenges, and the opportunities that common good models of woodland management can offer.

We’re pleased to be part of the partnership that is delivering the Making Local Woods Work pilot support programme, and were founder members of the Woodland Social Enterprise Network. Much of our policy work has relevance to people working in or on woodlands, especially our work on the challenges that the planning system can present to those wanting to live on the land. We have produced this infographic guide to the different tenure choices that woodland enterprises have.

We would love to do more research into the particular challenges and opportunities for community and social enterprise woodland management: to further explore and understand the scale and type of existing and potential business and governance models that exist. Our research into local authority woodlands in England highlighted a number of specific challenges that local councils face when making decisions about the future of their woods:  we would relish the opportunity to work with an authority considering the future of a number of woodland sites.

Scroll down to the posts below to read some of our latest work on woodlands projects across the country. 

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  • Knoydart Forest Trust

    Knoydart Forest Trust show some clever ways to generate income as a community organisation, and the pros and cons of community ownership.

  • Chiltern Rangers

    Spinning out from the local authority Woodlands Service, Chiltern Rangers now manage a portfolio of 14 woodlands as a social enterprise.

  • Tree Station

    TreeStation are taking the surplus wood generated throughout Greater Manchester and making it work. Reducing carbon emissions and producing woodfuel in the process.

  • Neroche Woodlanders

    Neroche Woodlander’s story demonstrates the benefits of not taking on ownership, and their vision for the future.

  • Abriachan Forest Trust

    The community of Abriachan bought this forest in the late 1990s and have developed the site into a productive asset with plenty of recreational and educational facilities.

Related publications

Research reports and publications written by the Shared Assets team

Related news and opinion

Blog articles, news and opinion pieces from the Shared Assets team

Seeing The Wood For The Trees

Our Director Mark Walton supports the recent Environment Committee’s call for a greater Government commitment to forestry, and points to the Making Local Woods Work programme as a demonstration of how woods can work for everyone.

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Save our trees: manage our woodlands

Most woods today simply will not survive if they are left to ‘be wild’ and so it is important to re-frame woodland ‘management’ as woodland ‘restoration’. However there is a commonly held view that ‘restoration’ means ‘walling off’, a letting-alone to be natural and wild. In this view anything more forceful than walking the dog in woodland seems overly intrusive and damaging.

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Development through Bricolage

How have community forest governance structures in the Italian Dolomites changed over the years? How have they engaged with the government, and each other? Our associate Luke Whaley’s next blog explains more…

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