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Can woodland be managed effectively for visitor access?

Posted 20 March 2015

Shona Smyth

Can heritage tourism estates effectively strike a balance between woodland management and visitor access, is the question being asked by a student at Harper Adams University.

22-year-old Shona Smyth is using the National Trust’s Canon Ashby Estate as a case study, as the property hopes to acquire additional secondary woodland to improve its visitor offering.

The BSc (Hons) Countryside and Environmental Management student hopes to identify the tensions that arise between woodland management and visitor access, looking at the perceptions of different stakeholders, particularly management and volunteers.

Shona from Towcester, Northamptonshire, said: “Through my research, I hope to produce a strategic appraisal for the Canon Ashby Estate, to help to develop a scheme that enhances visitor experience without compromising the tranquillity of the woodland.

“Managing woodland can often be perceived in a negative way by volunteers and conservationists, but it’s necessary to enable safe visitor access and create resilient woods for the future.

“As there is little existing research available on balancing timber management with visitor access, this study will form part of the growing research surrounding perceptions of conservation, tourism and recreation within green spaces.”

Shona worked for the Canon Ashby Estate during her placement year, and it was during this time that she worked alongside the volunteers and began her dissertation research.

After presenting three proposals and interviewing managers at the property, and distributing questionnaires amongst the volunteers, she was able to compare the attitudes towards the proposed woodland acquisition scheme.

The former Moulton College student, said: “Initial results suggest that woodland is for both conservation and recreation, but it appears that the developments for visitor access are aimed at urban visitors, not rural. This could be following recent campaigns to encourage fitness and wellbeing.

“The landscape is essential for amenity value but timber management is seen to negatively impact this, through felling operations and inappropriate management.

“The ultimate purpose of my research and appraisal is to inform and enhance woodland practices, and to use this to guide future management.

“It should help those interested in neglected woodland, such as heritage tourism sites, to understand the barriers that they may face when incorporating it into visitor offering.”

During her time at Harper Adams, Shona has joined the ladies rugby team, worked as a student ambassador and has gained student membership of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) and Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF).

She is now striving towards a career in woodland management, to continue her interest in commercial sustainable timber production.

Her interest in the countryside began when she completed secondary school work experience at a local estate and has been passionate about the sector ever since.

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