We need to think innovatively about how we produce value from natural resources to transition to a circular economy. Prior to her appointment at Eunomia, our Consultant Star Molteno completed a project which reviewed how local and small-scale economic engagement with forestry can play a role in establishing sustainable bio-economies.

The paper documenting the project ‘Making Local Woods Work’ has been published in the journal Forest Policy and Economics. Reflecting on the work, Star explains why developing a network is one of the keys to success in finding value in natural capital.

Supporting Woodland Social Enterprises

Star said: “Hidden in scattered UK woodlands are clusters of people exploring how the multiple benefits of woodlands can support the prosperity of communities in which they are situated. Given the umbrella term of ‘Woodland Social Enterprises’, these groups seek to use the natural resource to become self-supporting businesses delivering salaries, well-being, community cohesion and income for the management of the woodland so that it continues to remain a healthy resource. This fortuitous coming together of bio-resources and business acumen does not happen by chance, and I spent three years evaluating a programme designed to support these burgeoning groups. The project was called ‘Making Local Woods Work’ (MLWW) and aimed to provide business advice and skills, forestry skills training, as well as legal advice and network building. Sixty-five groups were selected for funding by the Plunkett Foundation who managed the MLWW project, and they presented a very wide range of projects and opportunities across the UK. These ranged from a teacher in Devon buying a couple of hectares of woodland on which to start a forest school, to a Scottish Community Trust that had already been managing 919ha of woodland for 15 years.

Establishing a Network and Common Purpose

“What we learnt was that supporting this innovative sector requires giving sufficient time to understand each project’s needs, a wide pool of trainers and facilitators from which to draw the relevant skills, and overall, the need to be flexible in delivery. Something which I know echoes the partnership working my colleague Yvonne Rees has done in river catchments. Building networks, both of projects within an area, and of expertise specialisms, was the element that led to sustainable impact beyond the lifespan of the project. What I saw on the ground was that woodlands present an amazing opportunity to provide many things of value at once. Groups generated income from selling timber; selling wood fuel; by providing an outdoor classroom for excluded children; or a restorative space for adults with mental health issues. And by bringing groups into the woodlands, they contributed to the ongoing management of the resource and the positive cycle can continue. The challenge of combining social, environmental and financial goals was one of the most difficult. For these groups there was a very real need to find a growth strategy that aligned with their mission and values. What emerged with clarity was the importance, in a collective endeavour, of formulating and articulating a common purpose.

Sharing Lessons Learnt

“So, two years after the project has finished and evaluation report finalised, my co-authors and I are excited to see our paper published in Forest Policy and Economics. Publication in this journal means the paper has the potential to reach a wider audience of academics and thinkers, and contribute to the discourse on social innovation and sustainable bio-economies but it also raises the issue of how difficult it is to use consultancy work for academic analysis. Consultancy work provides a rich source of data but rarely feeds into theory building at a conceptual level. As a purpose-driven consultancy, I think it’s useful to reflect on what role we can play in facilitating a more joined up conversation across audiences.”

Fostering Social Enterprise in Woodlands: Challenges for Partnerships Supporting Social Innovation by Anna Lawrence, Jennifer L.G. Wong and Star Molteno, can be downloaded for free for two months here. The Making Local Woods Work Evaluation Report can be found here.

The Natural Economy Team at Eunomia have supported partnership working in many areas, bringing together stakeholders from different backgrounds to work together to achieve common goals in the areas of Climate Change, Catchment working, nature based investment, and the management of plastics. We have provided capacity building support and guidance, evaluated approaches to find best practices to share with others and acted as secretariat facilitating working groups, white papers, and other stakeholder engagement activity. We are currently secretariat for the East of England Plastics Coalition and are supporting partners in the North West of England to benchmark catchment partnership working.

Image Courtesy of Athelas CIC.