Background Evidence suggests that exposure to woodlands is associated with increased physical activity and reduced stress. Environmental enhancements of local woodland have therefore been identified as an opportunity to improve health outcomes. The aim of this study was to assess whether woodland users had benefited from government-funded improvements made to local woodlands in deprived areas of Scotland. This study examined whether the perceptions of and use of woodlands were different between woodland users at intervention sites and those at non-intervention sites and how these relationships varied between social groups.
Methods A quantitative, case-comparison methodology was adopted. Questionnaires were used to collect data from woodland users recruited across four urban woodlands at two intervention sites and two non-intervention sites in deprived neighbourhoods in Scotland. In total, 198 participants were surveyed and asked about their views and use of the woodland. Outcome measures included frequent use of woodland (several times a week or more) and increased use of the outdoors. Demographic and socio-economic indicators such as age, gender and area-level deprivation for the respondent’s place of residence were also included in the analyses. Relationships were assessed with chi-square tests, Mann-Whitney-U tests and binary logistic regression using SPSS.
Results Results showed that perceptions of woodland users varied between the intervention and non-intervention sites, with people reporting more positive views at enhanced sites. For example, significantly more respondents reported they felt safe at the intervention sites than at the non-intervention sites (p < 0.05). At the intervention sites 61% of woodland users stated that they had increased their use of the outdoors following the enhancements. Those with a university or professional qualification had reduced odds of increasing use of the outdoors compared to those with fewer qualifications (OR = 0.079, 95% CI: 0.016–0.395). Results also showed that area-level deprivation for the respondent’s place of residence was associated with frequent woodland visits (p < 0.01) and despite being located in highly deprived areas, approximately 73% of woodland users were from affluent neighbourhoods further afield.
Conclusion The findings support the importance of well-maintained woodlands in urban areas for enhancing health and well-being. The study has shown that woodlands which are better cared for may encourage more outdoor exercise and positive attitudes towards woodlands than those that are unmanaged. However the results also suggest that the health benefits of urban woodlands may be unequal across socio-economic groups. Policy makers may be advised to also consider community engagement programmes for encouraging use of woodland among under-represented groups.
- interventions woodlands inequalities