Development of a Tool for Navigating the Evidence concerning Land Managers and Woodland Creation in the United Kingdom
The systematic evidence evaluation approach taken in the current review differed from other recent reviews because it (a) sought to include every available publication within the scope of the study, including peer-reviewed articles and grey literature, with no limit on publication date, and (b) systematically mapped the content of each publication against a comprehensive protocol of actors, factors, interventions, and outcomes to create a resource for others to access evidence needs across a range of contexts.
While the review is limited to the UK context (and the term ‘woodland’ is used to include what might be termed ‘forest’ in other countries), the technique for collecting and displaying the evidence is of high relevance to other countries with similar objectives of understanding drivers and barriers of forest creation initiatives.
The overall objectives of the current evidence review were as follows:
To create a tool that helps researchers and stakeholders navigate the evidence base and access the knowledge they need to address specific queries.
To gain a comprehensive overview of the evidence of the factors influencing landowners’ and managers’ willingness and ability to create woodland.
The resultant systematic evidence map and associated data visualisation tool allow users to identify all the evidence available for a specific query. The tools allow users to answer queries such as
Do influencing factors vary within or between different types of landowners and managers?
What evidence gaps exist in our understanding of factors that influence willingness or ability among landowners and managers to create woodland?
3.1. Selection of Literature
3.2. Temporal and Spatial Results
3.3. Data Visualisation—Data Dashboard Tool
Drivers of woodland creation for different types of landowners and managers;
Drivers of woodland creation in relation to land tenure;
The types of woodland created by different types of land managers;
Land management objectives among different types of land managers;
Land management objectives of different types of farmers.
The range of reviewed drivers and barriers influencing woodland creation was well-represented across the literature. Particularly well-represented evidence was found for the effects of economic incentives through tax and public grants (featured in 147 studies), attitudes and values (114), and land or resource suitability (107). Less evidence was available for private finance (38) and operational factors (49). Of the land manager objectives for woodland creation, the most frequently evidenced were conservation (76), timber production (74), and social or recreation (73). Few studies covered specialised objectives of contemporary policy interest, such as water quality (10), bioenergy (10), health and wellbeing (10), flood regulation (17), and carbon sequestration (24).
The evidence was marginally more focused on farmers (163) than non-farmers (135). Of the studies that specified the type of farmer, there were comparable numbers covering livestock (73) and arable farmers (62). Of the non-farmers, the weight of evidence focused on local authorities (52), NGOs (40), community groups (33), and forest companies (30), and with relatively little evidence pertaining to the Church (1), Crown Estate (1), developers (3), utility and transport companies (6), and National Parks (11). Regarding land ownership (primarily relating to farmers), the evidence included substantial numbers of studies for both owned land (68) and tenanted land (45), although in most cases, ownership was not specified (153).
By summarising the evidence for various queries, the interactive evidence tool offers policymakers, researchers, funders, and practitioners an overview of the scale of available information with respect to woodland creation drivers and outcomes. Conversely, it also highlights queries for which there are evidence gaps or shortfalls, i.e., potential areas for future research. Furthermore, the tool serves as a springboard for more detailed research into specific queries, allowing users to identify the relevant literature necessary for targeted reviews or exploration of evidence. For example, a user is able to identify, source, and subsequently review the literature to better understand whether a particular driver is of differing importance to different land managers or to determine which interventions are most likely to result in an increase in woodland creation by a particular type of farmer–queries which the scale of evidence alone do not reveal. Indeed, there is scope for the tool to assist in exploring and answering a plethora of such queries, depending on personal interest or concern. Importantly, this is the first iteration of the interactive evidence tool demonstrating a use case for such an approach. The intention is to improve functionality and useability so that users can explore the regularly updated data in greater depth. Forest Research (UK) will endeavour to re-run the aforementioned search and coding process in subsequent years in order to update the evidence map and interactive tool to reflect the ever-changing research landscape.
The current systematic evidence map provides comprehensive detail about the range of evidence that exists regarding land managers and woodland creation. The accompanying data visualisation tool offers a user-friendly and intuitive tool through which to explore this evidence. The evidence map codes sources on a range of areas, including drivers (such as incentives, land suitability, and cultural factors), objectives such as timber production and enterprise improvement, and characteristics such as ownership and land manager type. The systematic evidence map and data visualisation tool can be used to identify evidence gaps for future research and also help overcome the perennial problem of research being lost or overlooked (particularly grey literature), thereby breaking the cycle of unnecessary repetition in research efforts. By helping to identify relevant literature and providing confidence in the range of evidence identified, the systematic evidence map can also help policymakers and delivery bodies target specific groups when promoting woodland creation and frame messages and incentives in a way which is likely to be more appealing. Given the considerable importance currently attached to tree planting and woodland creation, particularly by governments and policymakers, and widespread concern about poor creation rates and missing targets in several countries, we propose that the systematic evidence map is promoted and used widely across the sector. Owing to the rapid rate at which new publications on this topic are being published (which has increased steadily over recent decades), we propose that the systematic evidence map is updated regularly to ensure its relevance and value can be maintained as bodies of evidence continue to grow.
The approach taken in the current research—systematic evidence mapping—is a transparent and repeatable way to evaluate information on any forestry management issue that affects policy and decision-making and is not restricted to any individual country; it is widely applicable to complex policy-practice challenges. In the field of forestry, it is still not widely used, and the current research is an innovative approach to the problem of synthesising knowledge and enabling stakeholders to use that knowledge. In the future, improvements in text mining and machine learning/artificial intelligence (AI) will make this method less labour-intensive and should facilitate better evidence-informed policy in forestry.
In summary, the systematic evidence map and its accompanying data visualisation tool represent a significant advancement in understanding the factors influencing land managers and implementation of woodland creation in the United Kingdom. This transparent and repeatable methodology compiles evidence from diverse sources, providing a holistic overview of the current knowledge landscape.
The evidence map, which includes an interactive online dashboard, identifies the abundance of evidence in certain areas and conversely highlights critical evidence gaps. Beyond academia, it offers practical utility for policymakers and delivery bodies by guiding targeted interventions and messaging. It can support improved design of incentives, approaches, and policies seeking to enhance woodland creation.
We advocate widespread adoption of the systematic evidence mapping approach across the sector, recognising its relevance in the context of the growing importance of woodland creation. Regular updates to the evidence mapping are recommended to ensure continued applicability as new publications contribute to the evolving body of evidence.
The innovative approach to evidence mapping and interrogation contributes significantly to specific challenges faced in the UK while also introducing a methodology applicable to forestry management globally. Looking forward, advancements in text mining, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are expected to streamline processes, enhancing evidence-informed policy and decision-making in forestry and land management.
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