Community involvement in woodlands: Governance and social benefits
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This study explores the social benefits resulting from community involvement in forestry in Scotland. Social benefits have been claimed and reported but a review of literature identified a need for further exploration to qualify them in nature and extent. A novel appraisal approach was also developed as part of this study to explore the context in which benefits are delivered and identify the factors and mechanisms instrumental in the delivery process. The research used a case study approach focussing on the Scottish Borders. It included a scoping phase involving semi-structured interviews to gain an understanding of the forestry sector and explore the wider context in which forestry operates. This phase informed the methodological strand of the study by feeding into the development of the appraisal approach and the design of the second empirical phase in which social benefits were investigated through a detailed study of four initiatives. Qualitative and quantitative information was collected through semi-structured interviews and local surveys. The main findings relate to the nature and distribution of social benefits and an understanding of the processes by which they are delivered. For example, social capital building was found nearly exclusively amongst those with direct contact with the projects. Other benefits, such as feelings of increased belonging or connection with their area, were experienced more widely and could result from the mere knowledge of the existence of the community initiative. The governance structures and institutions involved and the nature of the local community and area were found to be important and interrelating elements in the process by which benefits are experienced. Current forestry policy supports community involvement as a rural development mechanism, and the study findings provide insight in to the circumstances under which, and manner in which, community involvement should be facilitated for maximum gain. For example, the nature of the community and levels of existing community cohesion have implications for the role of external agencies; activities and events were found to be very important in attracting people to the woods who might not otherwise visit; and the capacity for the woods to be a forum through which interests in local biodiversity, history and arts are explored and expressed was found to be valuable.