Forest Communication Survey Results

Please download the survey results here – FOREST COMMUNICATION IN THE UK SURVEY November 12th

The survey was only open for 1 week in the end. We received 225 responses.

Whilst the survey was placed on the Landscape Juice Network forum, as well as the Arbtalk forum, (and of course here), it gained most response from twitter, using the hash tags #saveourforests and #IYF2011. This was therefore a somewhat targeted audience, an audience either seeking forest and tree information and  / or involved in the industry.

However the responses are interesting and the comments tow the same line has mentioned here and elsewhere, which is general shift in perception from a couple of years ago and one the NGOs need to keep an eye on in my opinion.

For me I was particularly buoyed up by the over whelming interest in pests, diseases and non native invasive species – as well as comments re climate change and many stating the need to sort this issue out before turning to other issues.

The other really interesting fact is that it is clear that members of the general public are using practitioner forums to get hold of information.

We have not finished a proper analysis as yet and I will post this up together with what we intend to use the survey results for later on.

One thing is absolutely clear, the Forestry Commission website is still far and away the most essential tool or online resource in the UK.

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6 Comments

Filed under Trees and Woodlands

6 responses to “Forest Communication Survey Results

  1. George

    Nice to see the RFS are still highly regarded & as you say that people are very aware of the problems re forests pests, call me cynical I wonder whether the WT boardroom will now be planning some kind of fundraising effort based on this high profile, to date I think they believe Forest Pests are the likes of ourselves and anyone else who dares to criticise them.

  2. Most people I talk to who have a moderate amount of knowledge in which I feel (as a non-practitioner) I can trust, criticise the WT immensely. Not just quibbles but often a really quite deep-seated concern for a great deal the WT stands for is expressed. In the literature the WT produces, and its many headline grabbing campaigns and initiatives, with my limited knowledge I can see that there is much wrong with the direction that this organisation is heading, and the influence it clearly enjoys.

    Conversely, from the albeit limited information offered by the stats, we see that the WT is perceived as an organisation worthy of consulting, but for what exactly? The detail is lacking in that regard and there seems a mismatch somewhere. Those I speak with who criticise the WT most strongly (and most frequently) are overall positive folk who have no truck with any kind of negative action to counter the WT’s excesses, but there must come a time when some significant effort is made to educate and inform those with less critical acumen and experience who seem to see the WT as a primary and reliable source of knowledge.

    It is always of deep concern that a body that is so heavily criticised on the basis of empirical evidence and technical/industry experience seems to have already won the heart of the public, becoming a trusted and popular ‘feel-good’ organisation. The WT I see as being similar to the RSPB who similarly is heavily PR-centred but has been shown to have worked consistently to the detriment of its own stated aims and objectives, often working to inadvertently disturb fragile ecosystems, disrupt food-chains, and tinker with self-healing habitats rather than protecting them. Like the RSPB, the WT is also similarly wealthy and not without influence because of that.

    Clearly on a PR level the WT is getting something right (unless I have hopelessly misread these stats) but surely it is time for those concerned by the excesses of the that organisation to make a concerted effort to win back the initiative through a careful and sustained challenge to the dominance of what (let’s face it) has become a charity that is viewed as synonymous with woodlands and their protection. Sorry. Have I got this wrong? I speak from the periphery, so it’s possible I have. I just don’t get it. I guess my question is why is there not a more visible backlash from practitioners if the WT is still in the ascendancy?

  3. Thanks both for your comments, I do honestly try and stay away from too much direct WT criticism and yet have been told that I am a protagonist. My personal grievance was the frankly strange behaviour during the PFE disposal furore and it was a big mistake of the WT to both use google advertising during the campaign as well as claiming eventual credit for the U turn, when in the initial period of the consultation before public anger started to mount in the way it did, the WT were towing a much more sedate (and honest) line. If they had stuck to that it would have been fine but it was clear they used the campaign to simply increase members, very succesfully. Subsequent to the campaign the truly dreadful comments from their partnership event with respublica, the internet manipulation talk given at the ICF conference and a general freedom to say anything whilst the FC were tethered up has led to a diminishment of respect for the current leadership and the WT PR team from many of my friends and peers in the industry. One cannot fault much of their previous work and ongoing contributions but when you couple the above which has upset those of us in the forest industry with the woodland they have been ‘selling off’, which upsets some of their membership then they cannot really accuse anyone of being wrong or misguided without decent explanation, in what is fair and warranted criticism without expecting a backlash.

    I have had to delete several anti-WT comments from my comments moderation queue on here and may continue to have to do so, although it is abundantly clear that there is such feeling abroad that people want somewhere to go to talk about the WT issue and to be honest the hits I get on any WT article is huge. My personal feeling is that this is only the tip of the iceberg, foresters on the whole work in forests and as such do not have much access to the internet. In publishing online a few moans and groans one hopes to be able to shoot a warning across the bows.

    But I have to say that I think the NGOs are generally in a pickle, they cannot continue to keep blaming others, particularly practitioners, as nothing seems to be improving much. Single issue initiatives, which drain as much subsidy as the landowners who pay practitioners, from centralised ideals and policy ignoring the diversity and complexity of both the physical landscape and the social issues within it, are doomed to fail. I wrote on the LJN recently about the Hedgehog demise where blame is apportioned to the practitioners working in urban / peri urban environment – why? If the hedgehog becomes extinct whose fault is it – the money flow to NGOs is vast and they need, must take some accountability (and as Andrew said in a comment left in the previous blog, this can be said of the Quangos also). Yet the NGOs seem as determined to keep things as polarised as possible, believing that a ‘fluffy’ image is enough to stafe back any dissent from the public who donate.

    One thing I have gleaned from this snapshot survey is that forestry issues in the UK are ‘google led’ and I don’t think this is a good thing. I believe the academic publishers are a huge problem because everything of real worth seems to be behind a paywall. And it is only the FC website that has prevented a complete greenwashing of the realities facing Forestry and Trees in the UK, (and futher bearing in mind most foreign forestry website are in English too and the students, practitioners et al across the world tap ‘forestry’ into their search engines).

    I hope that clear and frank discussion enables all forest issues to be laid open, one of which is the role of NGOs, and the internet is key to this. And as community woodlands and a more localised agenda is laid out then site specifics (with the ideals of the ELC), can aid those small local NGOs who just get out there and plant trees, joined by practitioners in ensuring that trees planted will actually survive – something that is sadly dubious having seen many of the rushed, volunteer, plantings that have occured in the UK, with huge beat up costs and which actually increase CO2 emmissions, when claiming and taking money to do the opposite.

  4. Thanks for publishing the summary findings so quickly. They make for a fascinating read; so I look forward to seeing the full report. I’ll be happy to promote that when it’s ready.

    It seems the Woodland Trust is receiving a bashing in the comments so far. I think the speed of change is very challenging for some NGOs and they must of course feel that they bring their members with them. Yes the WT is a large PR machine but they have at their centre some excellent and wise experts. By the way – look out for a multi-author report that has been led by the WT but includes NGO’s contributions from right across the sector (including a couple of sections from me). It will come out in late November/early December: just in time to beat the first draft report due from the Independent Panel on Forestry!

    Gabriel

    PS Delighted to see that my little website got a few mentions as a source too!

  5. Gareth Williams

    As Europeantrees & Gabriel state the WT employ some great minds and have done some good work. But if anyone can seriously deny that they have not gone astray this year they are deluded. Critique has been tempered, trust me the few blogs and evident material on the internet does not clearly illustrate the anger felt by many of us. But and here is the answer to Ian’s question as to why this anger is not more open, it may well yet be that they become our paymasters and this certainly appears their want and who in their right mind would care to blacken their copybook in this financial climate? The sentence ‘foresters on the whole work in forests and as such do not have much access to the internet’ is one that seems to be forgotten a lot as is the fact that foresters working in forests know about that forest, not only that but we also love our work and spend the time in the forests doing what we can to protect what we love, which is the forest itself in all its majesty and with all its benefits and values to us and nature intact.

  6. You’ve answered my question Gareth (as have your colleagues) so thanks for that. I guess I have the luxury of being baffled from the periphery. There are no doubt great minds and a vast knowledge base at the WT which was not reflected in my comment. The PR has done its work on me maybe but I lack the inside knowledge. The WT are not the only ones however. The FC has also sought to develop their user-friendly public appeal and it remains a worry that everyone is playing the PR game, particularly at this time. Both organisations have used popular music to promote their position, for example (the WT with pop videos promoting bluebell woodlands in Spring, and over the past few years the FC playing host to rock concerts in Forests such as Thetford and elsewhere). Here in the New Forest the FC plays host to dog agility events and other pursuits that take the organisation, like the WT, a long way from the skills-base that lies at its core. I guess some would argue that it is just such events that pay the salaries of the skills-base(s) referred to, and compromises have to be made, but with the FC not replacing retiree Forest Keepers and spreading the workload ever thinner among those that remain, plugging the gap with volunteers (as does English Heritage and the NT (which is another organisation that has seized recent developments to boost its membership roll) I fear that a time will come when the will to promote image over the will to retain substance and knowledge will cross over. Maybe I’m naive, cynical, ignorant of the facts or al of these things at once. Certainly I’m not really qualified to comment from a position of authority as a practitioner (I’m not one), just from my own external perception. As you say, I also have less to lose if I’m not beholden to such organisations as future paymasters. Anyway, despite the stated limitations (as with all surveys, there are always some) it was nonetheless hugely interesting to digest. Many thanks.

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