About the project

The project began in the year of the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, and in the wake of an abandoned government proposal to privatise the entire Public Forest Estate and a subsequent independent public consultation on the future of English woodlands.

The consultation advocated the development of a new ‘woodland culture’, framed in terms of market-based incentives for private landowners to provide ecosystem services; while the original proposal to privatise revealed how little legal protection there is for English public forests and woodlands at present. 

The project re-evaluates our relationship with forests, drawing lessons from legal history and legal theories that see nature as an object of human responsibility. It explores the potential for synergy between the public rejection of privatisation of the Public Forest Estate and market-based approaches to environmental governance. 

Through archival and empirical research around English forests and woodlands, the project aims to deepen and re-evaluate our understanding of human-forest relations for two main reasons: 

  1. In the context of national and international priorities on sustainable development, the project draws lessons to contribute towards shaping the future design of forest law and policy for long-term environmental sustainability. 
  2. Building on current public engagement work around the Charter for Trees, Woods and People, the project aims to increase public awareness of the intrinsic and extrinsic value of forests in order to contribute to the new ‘woodland culture’, ensuring that this culture is based on legal protection and shared cultural values towards forests and woodlands.

The project is unique in its interdisciplinary approach to exploring human-forest relations in the context of culture, law and society throughout English history, and the contemporary educational and policy potential this offers. Beyond academia, the outcomes of this project will be of interest to policymakers, third sector forest and woodland conservation organisations, forest education institutions, landowners of private woodlands and the general public.