LlyG member blog – We want you and your ideas! Experiences in Social Surveying for a Community Woodland Management Plan

Posted on March 31, 2014 by

The Dyfi Biosphere Community Woodland Group is a new community woodland group based in Machynlleth, Powys. Here working group members Anne Marie Carty and Kirsten Manley give their insight into the whys, hows, and lessons learnt in undertaking their recent social survey, part of the development of Coed Tŷ Gwyn’s community driven woodland management plan.

For further reading, download a booklet on the project, including social survey findings contact info@dyfiwoodlands.org.uk.

The project in a nutshell

Coed Tŷ Gwyn is  a Natural Resources Wales owned woodland used collaboratively by the Dyfi Forest Education Initiative Group and the local communities of Forge and Machynlleth. A working group was granted funding in 2013 to develop a community woodland management plan for it. This included consultation evenings, an open day, biodiversity surveys, a community survey, and a management plan workshop.

From this aims were established which now inform further planning.  The process heralded the need for a new community woodland group for a range of woodlands across the Dyfi Biosphere.  Thus the new Dyfi Biosphere Community Woodland Group was established.

What is a social survey?

Social research is research which follows a systematic plan, designed by a social scientist or equivalent specialist. Social research methods offer the opportunity to collect qualitative data (subjective ideas and opinions e.g. people’s feelings about a woodland) or quantitive data (numerical values e.g. number of English and Welsh speakers using a woodland), although most small scale surveys contain elements of both.

Value for community woodlands?

We saw surveying as a good way to find out answers to key questions we had: how many people already knew about the woodland, who might want to engage with it, why and how.  The process of surveying generated active discussions and promotion about the woodland.  It engaged  residents and organisations across the area to create our collaborative plan whilst also gathering credible feedback for our funders.

The aims of the survey were to….

  • Ascertain the current and potential use of local woodlands in general area
  • To gauge levels of community awareness and engagement with Coed Tŷ Gwyn
  • To provide the opportunity for people to indicate if and how they might wish to be involved in a community woodland group.

How was it undertaken?

The group engaged Anne Marie, a local anthropologist and social researcher to help them design and deliver the research.

The survey was administered both online and in face-to-face, semi-structured interviews. A number of challenges including late delivery of funding meant that we did not have the four months we had hoped for, instead undertaking the survey from scratch in one. We did however still manage to do the following:

  • The online survey was sent to community networks and promoted through social media.
  • 75 interviews were undertaken on ‘hard to reach’ members of Machynlleth and Forge communities – those who do not engage in online activity, and those who have not yet engaged in any woodland programmes to date.
  • Two local secondary students and a local adult were given free training by Anne Marie in interviewing techniques in exchange for their time interviewing the local community. This also aimed to engage younger members of the community with the project.

A total of 284.5 person hours were spent delivering this community survey, mainly voluntary. The results were subject to in-depth analysis. A digital presentation was compiled to share these results with the community at the Woodland Management Plan Workshops.

What were the key lessons learnt?

  • Create a clear set of aims and objectives – with everyone on board before you start.
  • Case by case on methodologies – assessing what mix you need, rather than what you are familiar with or other people have done. We found that the face to face interviews in our small rural community worked best, whilst online surveys less so.
  • Create questions that really answer your aims and objectives – key to providing robust stats.
  • Realistic delivery with resources – Think carefully about timing, person hours and funding available. Engage a professional through a recruitment process to help guide the survey if you can.
  • Consider survey timing – think about school holidays, times of day for door to door surveys as this will impact on who you get to talk to.
  • Research all the above prior to writing to funders


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