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Woodlands have an important role on the agenda for communities, for development, culture and identity, education, local economy, health, recreation, for a sense of place, in summary - for the quality of life. Leisure visits to woodlands are made for a variety of reasons, from quiet contemplation to noisy, adventurous activities. Moderate but sustained physical exercise can provide many health and wellbeing benefits, as well as psychological wellbeing. Also, for many people, there are spiritual benefits that can be gained by walking and taking activity in a woodland setting.
The environment's quality is a vital factor in health, wellbeing and quality of life. The quality of the urban environment and the wider landscape and countryside in which it sits has an effect, even though we may not realise it. The cleanliness of our water, the air and the character of our neighbourhoods are important to our health and trees play an important part in maintaining all of these qualities. And, as noted above, they also contribute to our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.Trees...counter ill health
Ill health is estimated to cost business in the East of England approaching £1 billion p.a.Trees support health and wellbeing:
Hospital patient healing times are faster if trees can be seen from the bed.
Source: Ulrich RS, Science Journal 224,
- There is a solid theoretical link between UVB/shading derived from good tree cover and improved skin protection.
- The presence of trees encourages people to exercise - this in turn reduces the incidence of heart attacks and Type 2 Diabetes.
The health impacts are likely to be greater in well-designed, variable woodland. The major benefits are:
- Psychological wellbeing. Looking at, or travelling through, treed landscapes reduces states of stress and anxiety;
- Regular moderate exercise in well-designed, accessible woods can lead to a reduction in heart disease and other physical illnesses;
- Strenuous exercise, such as mountain biking and orienteering, can have greater beneficial health effects;
- Some evidence for improved post-operative recovery rates in hospital wards overlooking wooded settings;
- Improvements in air quality as trees filter pollutants;
- Provision of shade in urban areas so reducing ultraviolet radiation exposure.
A leading example of light outdoor exercise for health benefits is the ‘Green Gym’ promoted by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV). This uses the countryside as a health resource, involves the local community in practical conservation work and promotes conservation activities as beneficial to physical and mental health and as occupational therapy.
- green infrastructure benefits our health -
A considerable body of evidence has gathered over the past few years about the importance of green infrastructure (of which woodland is a part) and its benefit to health. Through improvements in physical activity, restorative effects, promotion of psychological health and mental wellbeing and directly by reducing pollution through trees acting as filters capturing particulates on leaves and needles.Trees...reduce asthma levels
Children living in areas with more street trees have lower prevalence of asthma.
Source: Lovasi GS, Quinn JW, Neckerman KM, Perzanowski MS, Rundle A, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health #62
Cardio Vascular Disease (CVD) cost the UK economy £29.1 billion in 2004, with coronary heart disease (CHD) and cerebrovascular disease accounting for 29% (£8.5 billion) and 27% (£8.0 billion) of the total respectively. Only the cost of mental illness surpassed the cost of CVD.
- avoided heath care costs are substantial
By increasing the level of activity, avoided health care costs in the East of England could lie in the range £6 - 14 million/yr, and if the non-health care costs are included the total avoided costs are in the range £12 - £27 (mid-point £19.5million/yr). This is a conservative estimate as it only takes into account one disease (CVD) and does not account for the potential of physical activity in woodlands to cause reduction in costs associated with a wide range of other illnesses such as mental illnesses, which costs the economy an estimated £26.1 billion a year. There are number of organisations that either focus on, or include projects using walking therapy to promote good mental health. For example the Discovery Quest Project for Julian Housing based in Norwich: http://www.julianhousing.org/pages/services/discovery_A5.pdf
As a significant component of our landscapes and green infrastructure, trees contribute in a wide variety of ways, adding to people's spiritual values, improving social harmony and even helping to preserve the past
a. Recreation and access
- woodland access of vital social importance -
Given the benefits of woodland for health and wellbeing, the issue of woodland access becomes very important. Local communities are at the heart of determining what is needed in a local area and there is an appetite for an increase recreational opportunities and the greenspace to achieve them. These may also be linked to energy production, economic development and biodiversity targets.
The Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000, as well as providing the “right to roam” on heath, down and registered common land, requires local highway authorities develop Rights of Way Improvement plans and sets the scene for strategic access.
- the Forestry Commission's policy of open access -
The Forestry Commission has a policy of open access and many of the Woodland Trust woodlands also are accessible. Anyone in receipt of a Forestry Commission grant usually has to make provision for access, however there are many wood for which access is denied to the general public. The Woodland Trust's ‘Wood for People’ project began in 2002 with the aim of producing as comprehensive an inventory of accessible woodland across the UK as possible, an ongoing programme developed by the Woodland Trust and Forestry Commission England, supported by Forestry Commission Wales and Scotland, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Woodland is defined as “land under stands of trees with, or the potential to achieve, tree crown cover of more than 20 per cent”. This is taken from the Forestry Commission’s National Inventory of Woodland and Trees15, (now the National Forest Inventory). Accessible woodland is defined as “any site that is permissively accessible to the general public for recreational purposes”. This includes sites with unrestricted open access and restricted, but permissive, access (e.g. fee-payable, fixed-hours access). To see this Woodland Trust project go to:
b. Equality and diversity
The pattern of recreation usage raises issues of social inclusion. A disproportionately small percentage of people from multi-ethnic, low-income areas, and less than half of those without cars, are involved in woodland recreation. With careful siting, design, planning and management it should be possible to adopt measures to balance participation rates, although there are also issues of people’s perception and confidence that must be tackled.
Increasingly activity may be more organised and require travel to larger sites. Of particular relevance is the growth in interest in woodland cycling, paintball, archery and horse riding but also organised forest walks, forest drives, visitor centres and picnic sites. The use of woodlands as a setting for art and sculpture, and including such events as concerts and plays, is becoming increasingly common.Trees...calm people
People's health and wellbeing is improved where woodland environments area readily accessible.
- The stress reduction effects of trees are likely to have the effect of cutting road rage and improving the attention of drivers.
Source: Wolf 1998, Kuo and Sullivan 2001
- Contact with nature can have a positive effect on children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
Source: Taylor, Kuo, Sullivan, 2001
Publicly accessible woodlands, both urban and rural, are key places where people feel they can ‘get away from it all’, and there may be a desire by some to get more actively involved with local woodlands. A great variety of well-preserved archaeological monuments and features within woodlands merit presentation and interpretation so that they can become educational assets and visitor attractions.
There is a lot of scope for attracting more families to woods, although individual requirements vary. For example mothers with young children want secure, low-cost, accessible opportunities in which play facilities are provided, whilst families with older children seek more strenuous activities.
c. Community Engagement - Big society
One of the most important indicators of quality of life is the extent to which people feel that they have a stake in the community in which they live and work. Engaged communities are much more likely to take pride in their neighbourhood, which in turn can reduce vandalism and antisocial behaviour. This may include an attachment to a particular settlement or neighbourhood, opportunities for involvement in local decision-making, or direct involvement in community based activities.
A sense of place and community can be greatly influenced by a clear understanding of the local historic environment, which may be influenced by tree and woodland cover (see d. below).
- management of woodland, a prime community activity -
The establishment and management of trees and woodland are prime activities in which people can be involved and are frequently their first experience of community engagement. Opportunities exist for participation from the initial planning of woodland creation, through planting and subsequent management to utilisation of woodland products.
- Big Tree Plant -
The Big Tree Plant launched on the 2nd December 2010, aims to plant one million trees by April 2015, in England’s towns, cities and neighbourhoods. Delivery is through a partnership approach: civil society partners and conservation organisations working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Forestry Commission. http://thebigtreeplant.direct.gov.uk/index.html
The Big Tree Plant campaign is also a catalyst for engaging with communities and developing volunteers, encouraging enterprises to partner with communities to develop urban tree and woodland management plans and energy schemes. It may also present opportunities for Local Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to think strategically about where woodland will bring the most benefit.
- encouraging a sense of ownership -
Local involvement is not just a benefit in itself, particularly where woodlands are to be created or managed primarily for the public benefits they provide. The input and engagement of local people can greatly enhance those benefits, as well as engender a sense of ownership and responsibility.
Greatest benefits can accrue where there is a sense of ownership of the resource being managed. This can be achieved by delegating responsibility, particularly of publicly owned woodland, to a local community, or by direct ownership of land.
d. Preserving the past
In addition, as typically undisturbed woodland land use is un-intrusive, the immediate sub-soil (unlike that of intensively farmed land) is then barely disturbed for long periods. Consequently, where woodland is established and archaeological finds are present, trees have the capacity to preserve our cultural heritage.
Trees can perform a range of valuable roles, helping to make urban life an altogether pleasanter experience:
a. Green Infrastructure
The benefits of green infrastructure have been well researched as multi-functional space that performs numerous roles from transport links (cycling and walking) to wildlife corridors. In 2010 the Forestry Commission launched “The Case for Trees in Development and the Urban Environment” this document sets out the case for more trees in order to fulfil Climate Change, Environment, Economic and Social objectives.
This document also drew attention to several less direct benefits of trees within the built-up context, including a surprising impact on crime and a potential for reducing road safety hazard.
There are several examples in the East of England where the role of green infrastructure has been seen as integral to the development of sustainable communities.
- green infrastructure with trees integral to
sustainable communities -
For example, Haven Gateway Partnership established in 2001 designated as a Growth Point Haven Gateway aims to enable the development of 65,100 homes and 49,700 jobs by 2021. The partnership aims to establish a framework for the delivery of high quality green infrastructure over the next 20 years, complementing and supporting planned housing and development growth.
- integrating habitats with recreation -
Within the Haven Gateway ‘The Living Landscapes’ is a concept developed by the Wildlife Trusts to deliver integrated habitat and recreational management at the landscape scale. A partnership with the Wildlife Trust, Suffolk County Council, Natural England, Suffolk Coastal District Council Forestry Commission and the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Unit are working to develop an integrated biodiversity audit of the Living Landscapes area whilst developing a Recreation Strategy for the current and proposed Haven Gateway population.
GreenArc is a strategic Landscape Partnership located in the North West quadrant of the Green Belt of London. The GreenArc founded in 2004 is a partnership of local authorities in Essex and Hertfordshire whose aim is ‘bringing the BIG OUTDOORS closer to everyone – by creating, linking and managing extensive and valued landscapes for people and wildlife around London’ http://www.greenarc.org/ .
The GreenArc extends from the urban suburbs of London to rural landscape of Essex and Hertfordshire along strategic landscape corridors such as the Lee and Stort valleys. The GreenArc has a high density of ancient woodlands and there are opportunities for buffering these ancient woodlands, as well as wet woodland creation along the Stort and Lee Valleys and creation of urban woodlands around Growth Points such as Harlow. The current GreenArc strategy is being reviewed and in Hertfordshire the new GreenArc Strategy will be incorporated into all the Local Development Frameworks.
b. Built environment.
Trees in the built environment (urban trees) can radically transform the appearance of urban areas, adding to property value and creating a more people-friendly setting, but they do more than this. As we have seen trees help combat the effects of climate change by shading and cooling, Trees can combat crime:
Rather than providing cover for criminal activity, research suggested that in a particularly deprived area of inner city Chicago, appropriate vegetation cover [including trees] leads to reduced crime rates.
Source: Kuo and Sullivan, 2001
Trees act as natural filters for airborne pollutants, they help reduce noise and can affect the behaviours of drivers reducing speed:Trees...save lives
Tree-lined routes cut pedestrian deaths by not only providing a buffer between vehicles and pedestrians, but such routes give the impression to drivers of narrowing the street, which triggers slower driving speeds.
Dutch research shows neighbourhoods with good tree cover are statistically healthier than less green urban areas. Trees have a measurable amenity value and there are several methods of calculating this the four well known methods are - CAVAT, i-Tree, Helliwell and DRC method.
Trees and woodlands in and around the built environment can contribute towards creating places where people want to live and work and help define the cultural identity of urban areas. It is of equal, if not more, importance to manage urban trees and woods as those in rural areas.
- managing urban trees is critical -
There is a danger that if urban trees and woodlands are taken for granted they will decline in vitality and number. They can suffer from a range of threats including salt spray, aerial pollution, high temperatures and trenching for services.
c. Urban fringe and land restoration
For many areas the urban fringe is an important element to the perceived quality of life, although this fringe may also be an area of degraded landscape quality. Around London the majority is designated as ‘Metropolitan greenbelt’ and the Government is committed to continued protection of this designated land.
The improvement of such areas could provide a number of key benefits. Tree and woodland establishment, in association with other habitat types, in such areas can make a very positive contribution to all of these aims. As discussed in other sections, trees and woodlands can provide a superb recreational resource, encourage community engagement, greatly enhance amenity values and increase biodiversity. It is also important, however, to ensure existing woodland is protected.
- multiple benefits of trees and woodland -
Among the many benefits provided by trees and woodlands in urban and urban fringe areas are:
- The establishment of a green framework within which new developments can be merged with minimal visual intrusion;
- Reduction of polluting particulates
- Reduction of heat island effect;
- Through integrated planning, housing can be linked to informal recreation opportunities with woodland providing safe and attractive settings for footpaths and cycleways;
- High quality environments increase property values and attract industry quality surroundings can help reduce stress and improve productivity in the workplace;
- They can act as wildlife corridors addressing concerns raised in the Lawton report.
There may be opportunities to improve the quality of the urban fringe by tree planting to provide a wide range of benefits for local communities. The Green grid idea could be transferred to other urban areas. Adding connectivity to habitats and enabling access for communities - Green byways linking urban populations to prime recreational greenspace.Trees...quieten the environment
Apparent loudness is reduced by 50% where there are wide belts of trees.
Source: Dwyer et al, 1992
The planting of trees and woodlands along roads can help mitigate noise and pollution and woodland belts can provide very good visual screens. Belts of evergreen species, in particular, between residential areas and busy roads can act as air filters and result in improved air quality as well as dampening noise. And t he presence of trees can reduce the likelihood of fog.
- 'Right tree, right place' -
However, it is important to have the right tree in the right place. Careful planning and management can mitigate any negative impacts. All highway authorities manage urban trees within their responsibility, but detailed management proposals including phased removal and replacement strategies are rare, there may be scope for using the outcome of management regimes to produce woodchip.
If we assume that woodland is a valuable resource and all evidence points to this, then wherever possible the chance to increase woodland cover can provide opportunities for future wood use. Transport corridors can offer areas for planting, rest stops can be made more attractive as in France.
d. Land restoration
The Community Woodland Network is an interactive network for community woodland groups to share information and resources. There are three Community Forests in the East of England
|Marston Vale||Thames Chase||Watling Chase|
Since their inception, the community forests have played a key role in revitalising the areas around many of England's towns and cities. These three Community Forests are directly implementing landscape enhancement schemes in some of the most degraded parts of the East of England. In doing so they have also helped deliver a successful balance of economic, social and environmental benefits to those communities. Because of the community forest programme, half of England's population now lives in, or is within easy reach of, a community forest. Woodland is being established on degraded land of all types around the region, especially within the Community Forests. Local Authorities are encouraging woodland as the after use of some landfill sites.
The Land Trust provides long-term sustainable management of open spaces across the country. It was formed in June 2010 as a charity – with influential members and trustees - and a company limited by guarantee.
- woodland can regenerate wasteland -
Woodland establishment can be an important means of regenerating urban and industrial wasteland, and it is considered one of the most cost-effective and technically successful ‘soft’ end-uses.
Continued landscape enhancement of degraded areas can build on the experience and expertise of the Community Forests. There are places where other habitats may be more appropriate, but there are a number of benefits that would accrue from woodland establishment:
- Pollution amelioration;
- Improvement of land and property values and the stimulation of inward investment;
- Shelter and energy conservation;
- Improved community perceptions;
- Mitigation of liabilities;
- Savings in the management of landscaping schemes.
Forest Schools, which began in Scandinavia, have become well established in the East of England. These use the forest as classrooms for regular trips for over 150 schools in the East of England. The benefits of these open-air classrooms have been well researched but are difficult to express in monetary terms.
- improved play space can secure dramatic changes -
Profound links have been demonstrated between the quality of play space and grounds, and the observed behaviour relationships and attitudes of the pupils who use them. Evidence suggests that improving the quality of the space in which learning takes place will bring about dramatic changes in behaviour and relationships, reduce accidents, ease tensions, reduce bullying and confrontation and provide increased opportunities for learning:Trees...provide a positive learning experience
Spending part of school time in small woodlands has a positive influence on 5-7 year olds' motor development skills.
- Plants in lecture halls have positive effects on students and it has been noted that inattentive behaviour signs were much lower.
Some recent research in Norway suggests that spending part of school time in small woodlands has a positive influence on children’s (5 to 7 years) motor development skills. It was found that natural landscapes had qualities to meet children’s needs for a stimulating and varied play environment, with a positive relationship between landscape components and play activities. Children are thus enabled to develop more fully in a range of ways, both as individuals and as part of society.
- Forest Schools are permanent, natural and safe settings -
The Forest School concept has developed from this work. In essence, each Forest School provides a permanent, natural but safe setting in which children have freedom to roam and to experience the natural world through practical activities. Children visit the woodland regularly throughout the year and in all weathers. Although Forest School sessions are mainly run for pre-school age children, both older disaffected children and those with learning difficulties can thrive in the positive atmosphere. Forest School allows participants to learn and explore in a constructive way and encourages them to be active. Forest Schools gives confidence in the outdoors and the tools to develop healthy lifestyles while providing a unique and unforgettable learning experience
- Forest Education Initiative -
The Forest Education Initiative (FEI) is a partnership between the Forestry Commission, Woodland Trust, Timber Trades Federation, Forest Industries Development Council, BTCV, Local Authorities, Field Studies Council, Tree Council and Groundwork. It aims to increase the understanding and appreciation, particularly among young people, of the environmental, social, and economic potential of trees, woodlands and forests and of the link between the tree and everyday wood products. It acts as a facilitator and works with teachers and others to produce resources that help to deliver the requirements of the National Curriculum for schools. There are now many more opportunities to look at education and learning for young people outside the curriculum but still through the formal education process, for example through after school activities.
Learning does not cease at the point students leave school or college; it is a lifelong process. Trees and woodlands can play an important role in this. As well as being popular places to visit for recreation there is a widespread, and unfulfilled, desire for information and knowledge.
- woodland and adult learning -
Through well-designed programmes, it is possible to increase public awareness of their environment, heritage and history within woodlands. Relationships to and with nature can be changed and awareness of global environmental issues with local implications increased. Woodlands can provide settings for adult learning, particularly those who don’t learn in formal educational environments. Woodland management can uniquely demonstrate global and local sustainability issues, use of natural resources and illustrate such topics as the carbon and water cycles.
The range of opportunities is considerable but includes; guided walks, interpretative material in woodlands, workshops, training courses, working holidays, and woodland craft holidays.
- educational value is hard to estimate monetarily -
As the aim of education is to develop the individual and, in the long-term, enable them to gain a wide number of skills that will benefit both them and society, the real value of education is difficult to estimate in monetary terms. However, a conservative figure of £0.82 - £1.64 million per year for educational benefits has been guesstimated for East of England.