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The National Forest is Boosting Local Pride, Research Shows

Wednesday, 10th January 2007

Local people have strong, positive perceptions of The National Forest and closely associate it with improving environmental and economic conditions in the area, according to the over-riding conclusions of new research published this month. (January 2007)

‘Growing places: a study of change in The National Forest’ was undertaken by social scientists John Urry and Jake Morris from the Social Science department of Lancaster University. It was commissioned by Forestry Commission England with support from the National Forest Company, in response to the Forest’s reputation as a place ‘on the up’.

The research examined the ways in which the creation of the 200-square-mile National Forest in the Midlands is changing the lives of people who live, work and spend their leisure time in the area.

Jake Morris lived among the communities in The National Forest for almost six months. His ‘compressed ethnography’ took him into the everyday life of the Forest: planting trees, working on farms, attending meetings, doing volunteer work. His data gathering also included interviews with a wide range of people living in The National Forest.

As well as looking at the ways in which this area of ‘deprivation’ is being turned into an area of 'opportunity', the study explores how a healthier, green and more economically diverse environment can improve the quality of life of local residents and visitors to the area.

Simon Evans, Chief Officer of the National Forest Company, said: “‘Growing Places’ confirms our early hopes and aspirations that The National Forest would create a new sense of place and local identity across the area. The success of the Forest is based upon working with a wide range of organisations, landowners, businesses and local communities. This research shows how the Forest has captured people's imagination and is transforming the image, environment and economy of the area. There is a real sense of belief in the Forest’s achievements and it being a positive force in shaping the area’s future.”

Austin Brady, Forestry Commission England's Conservator for the East Midlands, added: “It’s great news that this research confirms our belief that well-designed woodlands don’t just look good, but that they really do improve people's sense of well-being, as well as enhancing their sense of pride in their local area. People also recognise the contribution of trees and woodlands to local economic development opportunities too. It all goes to show that the hard work and investment by the many partners in The National Forest have been well worthwhile in terms of improving people's lives, and giving new encouragement to all of us as we look to continuing this work into the future."

In addition to the positive perceptions of the Forest, the report concludes that:

  • there is a close association between the Forest and the very noticeable improvements to the area's environment: cleaner air, cleaner places and increasing biodiversity and evidence of wildlife;
  • the Forest has become a 'social glue' that is binding individuals, groups and organisations together to form new partnerships and networks. Engendering these new forms of 'social capital' is one of the most significant achievements of The National Forest;
  • an improved economy is indicated by an increase in Forest-related businesses. This is encouraging business re-location and buoyant house prices as more people are attracted to live in the area;
  • businesses are using the Forest brand to market their products, using its 'green', 'local' or 'national' connotations;
  • local authorities are using the forest as a brand to communicate a common sense of purpose and strengthen their connections with other organisations working in the Forest;
  • the Forest is redefining how people see the area. Local history, such as the mining heritage, is still important, but a strong sense of a 'future' Forest is also shaping people's views: for example, how they feel about their impact on the environment, and corporate views on greener approaches to energy consumption and office waste; and
  • the Forest is having a positive impact on the agricultural economy, enabling farms to diversify, increasing employment and creating more business through the purchasing of services and equipment.

'Growing places: a study of change in The National Forest' can be downloaded from www.forestresearch.gov.uk/peopleandtrees. Paper copies, priced £11, can be ordered from Forestry Commission Publications, PO Box 25, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, LS23 7EW; tel: 0870 121 4180, quoting stock code FCRP010.