Walking the land
: Examining an ecosystem approach for private estates through the lens of woodland expansion

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


This thesis presents a local interpretation of an ecosystem approach; ‘energyscapes’ constructed through mixed methods, which captures private estate manager perception on land use, woodland expansion and collaboration over four case study areas in the Scottish Highlands. Each case study area of three contiguous estates forms a small landscape cluster, with every estate participating in field interviews, woodland planning and collaborative discussions. Private estates in Scotland cover a significant area of the Highlands and are dominated by traditional sporting interests and recreation that is not always considered compatible with woodland expansion, creating a culture of woodland neglect. Subsequently planting rates are falling and Scottish government woodland expansion targets are not being met, despite large areas of vacant land.
Key areas of estate and woodland resilience are identified by land managers to improve social and structural connectivity using the novel landscape resilience mapping method, which presents land manager perceptions over a spatial scale linked to resilience concepts. The Forest Energy Tool developed in response to the need for economic justification for woodland expansion demonstrates the potential profitability of local woodfuel markets, as well as providing silvicultural treatments for further management aims. Estate resilience involves fostering effective integration between sporting uses, renewable energy and enhanced rural markets, such as value added forestry.
Ecosystem approaches are normally expressed through aspirational policy that is difficult to translate into relevant practice for individual land managers. Energyscapes provides meaning to ecosystem approach policy through CBD principles and operational guidelines, and local practice; including integration of hydro schemes, forest energy and carbon sequestration at estate level and bridging of local and regional scales through six land manager identified landscape partnerships. However, developing leadership, as well as expertise and social capacity in landscape management, is required to mobilise such frameworks. Fundamental to realising these local ecosystem approaches is land manager trust and confidence, which can generate support for emerging land uses alongside tradition, increasing resilience by capturing and utilising the culture embedded within the landscape.
Date of Award2 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SponsorsESF PRA
SupervisorMelanie Smith (Supervisor), Robert McMorran (Supervisor) & Martin Francis Price (Supervisor)


  • woodland expansion
  • ecosystem approach
  • walking interview
  • spatial resilience
  • woodfuel

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