New study analyses public perceptions of forestry and bioeconomy

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The forest-based sector’s contribution to a bioeconomy depends on policymakers, citizens and consumers, and how they perceive, accept and promote the forest-based value chain and its products and services.

In the past decade, several surveys looking at perceptions and attitudes towards forests, forestry and the forest-based sector have been carried out in different European countries. A new meta-study from the European Forest Institute now reviews and summarises current knowledge, providing a European-level perspective on public attitudes to four topic areas: forest ecosystem services, forestry and forest management, forest-based industry and wood and wood-based products.

The study team carried out a systematic literature review, focusing on peer-reviewed studies based on primary data. Analysis of those studies showed that:

  • Primarily, European citizens perceive forests to be beneficial for the climate, as a place of biodiversity and to experience nature and recreation in the forest.
  • Mixed forests and diversity of stands are preferred and perceived as being “more natural”.
  • The economic role of forests, specifically as provider of raw materials and for generating regional income – central aspects in bioeconomy – was less recognised.
  • Forest management activities, especially clear cuts, the use of exotic tree species and the application of chemicals for productivity or pest measurement, receive little acceptance.
  • The public has a limited understanding of the activities related to forestry and the forest-based industry.
  • Wood and wood products have a positive image. Yet the positive impact of wood and wood-based products on climate change mitigation is questioned.
  • Sustainable wood sourcing (country and legal origin) is an important piece of product information. Yet consumers assign similar or even more importance to product quality and prices and little is known about the actual purchasing decisions of consumers.
  • European citizens are fond of forest-based sector innovation, despite having little awareness of them and few studies being available.
  • Respondents’ characteristics, such as socio-demographics and psychographics (e.g. values, beliefs, attitudes), influence their perceptions of forestry and the forest-based bioeconomy.

The review further shows that there are no transnational studies that monitor public perception of forests in the European Union on a regular basis. The only exceptions are the Eurobarometer studies, which sometimes contain forestry related questions. As forests and their use is a very emotional topic for the general public, surveying these perceptions is recommended in the future to develop socially accepted forest policy and forest-based value chains.

More information

Lea Ranacher, Anna Sedmik, Peter Schwarzbauer (2020). Public perceptions of forestry and the forest-based bioeconomy in the European Union. Knowledge to Action 3. European Forest Institute.

The study is published on 27 October and is freely downloadable.