Social Forestry

Wood fuel demonstration in the Tamar Valley AONB<br />10 May 2013

Wood fuel demonstration in the Tamar Valley AONB
10 May 2013

The Chair of the Governments Independent Panel on Forestry, the Right Reverend Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, suggests that as a society we have lost sight of the value of trees and woodlands.”

The Bishop goes on to suggest, “We need a new culture of thinking and action around wood and woodlands, and a new way of valuing and managing the natural and social capital of our woodland resource, alongside the timber they contain.”

Over the last five years, the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been working with a range of partners to explore ways of reconnecting communities to their local woodlands. Under the all-encompassing heading of “Social Forestry”, AONB partnerships, woodland owners and a range of community groups and new start up social enterprises have come together to share thinking and experience.

On this page we tell the story of our social forestry work and share the reports and videos that have been produced.

Why are AONB partnerships interested in social forestry?

Trees and woodlands are critical components of most, if not all our AONB landscapes. There are some 170,000 Ha of priority habitat deciduous woodlands in AONBs accounting for 25% of the national resource. With around 50% of our broadleaved woodland in decline due to fragmentation and under management, AONB partnerships have a major role to play in supporting initiatives that drive more active management of woodland assets and more people actively engaged in understanding and practically response to the sustainable management of woodlands.

Social Forestry Pilot – Report 2013

With support from Defra, 8 AONB partnerships came together to test out ways of supporting woodland social activities – from woodland management for wood fuel to woodland job training schemes. In 2013 the NAAONB held a one day social forestry conference and launched a report produced by Tim Crabtree from Wessex Re Investment that argued that woodlands are “good for people, good for nature and good for the green economy”.

Key messages from the Report were

  • social enterprise approaches are an increasingly important mechanism for delivering health and well-being benefits, environmental enhancement and economic outcomes. Social enterprises are “triple bottom line” organisations, and have proved in a wide range of sectors that they can deliver these benefits both directly, or by supporting the operation of other economic factors.
  • England’s wildlife network and ecosystems urgently need to be protected and restored. Some of the nation’s most iconic wildlife depends on woods, trees and forests. However evidence demonstrates real decline in this wildlife, and in the extent of ancient woodland. This highlights the importance of improving the condition of existing woodlands through sustainable management, expanding woodland cover, and restoring our most precious ancient woodlands and heathlands from plantation forestry and
  • a call from Government to woodland owners and businesses to seize the opportunity provided by woodlands to grow our green economy, by strengthening the supply chain, and promoting the use of wood more widely across our society and economy.

Community Energy Peer to Peer Mentoring 2014-2015

The NAAONB was successful in securing a Community Energy Peer to Peer Mentoring (CEPM) award to drive forward the second phase of our AONB Family social forestry pilot work.

The Government was keen to support the development of community energy projects to show how social action can help people reduce their energy bills. Although community energy sector is growing and increasing numbers of new projects are being developed, the Government has recognised that smaller energy groups often work in isolation, with no formal networks for skills sharing nor mentoring with larger more established organisations. Acknowledging the NAAONB’s work on social forestry, Cabinet Office awarded the NAAONB £50,000 to take the project forward.

Over the past 12 months, the NAAONB has been leading the CEPM partnership that includes Arnside & Silverdale AONB Partnership, Axewood Co-op, Dorset AONB Partnership, Prime Coppice, Silverdale & District Woodbank and Wyre Community Land Trust.

What activities took place?

Some 100 participants attended 3 open woodland study visits held in July and August 2014 to find out what our local woodland social action activities were going on and to share experiences and define training needs that would help support woodland action. Participants included woodland owners, community groups, forestry practitioners and start up social enterprises.

In the autumn of 2014 the NAAONB held follow on training events that picked up on the common learning needs:

  • Understanding Woodland Management,
  • Running and Sustaining Woodland Social Action Groups, and
  • Making the Most of Your Wood Fuel

In March 2015 a final training event, Legal Issues for Woodland Social Action Groups, will take place.

As part of our evaluation process Common Ground were commissioned to film and produce short videos at the training events. These videos captured the learning and sharing that went on at the training events.

Where next for NAAONB Social Forestry

Our CEPM funded programme ends on March 31st 2015 and we will be producing a short evaluation report to capture the key learning points.

Looking ahead, the National Association for AONBs is delivery partner with the Plunkett Foundation, Locality, The Woodland Trust and others in a £1m bid to the Big Lottery fund to begin the process of up-scaling our support to woodland social action/enterprise.


Kit Vaughan: “A local wood fuel movement” from Common Ground Cinema on Vimeo.

Kit Vaughan of Prime Coppice West Dorset talks about the importance of woodland groups and how together they can tackle wood fuel issues and support woodland management.

This is an extract from “Making the most of Wood Fuel” (

Michael Dower: “Good to see AONBs getting together” from Common Ground Cinema on Vimeo.

Dorset resident Michael Dower talks about the role of AONB partnerships in supporting active management of our native broadleaved woodlands.

This is an extract from “Making the most of Wood Fuel” (

See more videos – Woodland Conversations ›