Getting to a woodland – who and when?

In an age where life is rather tumultuous and detached from nature, many individuals may opt to visit woodlands and forests as a means of escaping from the frenetic day-to-day living of an urban environment. In fact, alongside the rise in urban populations there has been a rise in the number of individuals using woodlands and other green areas, and such a growing desire to visit has led to these sites becoming highly-used and thus pressured. Sites nearby to urban fringes, and those that are readily accessible via transport means (cars, trains, etc) may be most readily used, given that there is only so much time in a day and many individuals will only visit such sites for a few hours (oft during fair weather) before returning home.

To probe further into exactly what drives woodland visitation by individuals, we can look at a new article published in the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. This specific study looks at woodland sites in Wallonia, Belgium, and delves into who visits woodland sites (demographics), and how they get there (transport). The region of Wallonia is covered by woodlands (around 30% of total land cover), and these woodlands are found quite far from any major cities (75% of woodlands are located in rural locations). A total of 40 sites were used for the study, and 14% of these were in peri-urban or urban areas. These (peri-)urban sites accounted for nearly 50% of all surveyed participants. Results from the questionnaire are shown below.

woodland visitation people
Who visits Belgian woodlands, and how do they get there?

From the above data, we can spot some very interesting things. For instance, many more people visit woodlands during the weekend, suggesting that the visits are undertaken outside of typical working times. Given the average age for visitors to the woodland sites is far below the retirement age, we can safely assume that this is the reason for the preference of weekend visits. This assumption is further supported by the fact that 68% of all woodland visitors are currently employed. We can also observe how the fewest number of visitors visit the woodlands during autumn, which is actually somewhat curious as autumn colours are absolutely stunning. It is arguably not at all strange, however, that the spring months attract the greatest number of visitors, though winter-time visits for walkers is actually higher (by a few tenths of a percent).

In terms of how people get there and who with, we can see that there’s generally a mix of sole individuals, families, couples, and groups who frequent the sites, though this is not really where it’s particularly interesting. Instead, it’s when we look at how they get there that it gets quite cool. For example, we can observe how sole individuals will access the woodland by foot or via bicycle, which is likely because of the ease of access via such means. Driving a car is probably not so enticing, as there’s less of a push for time and fewer people to suit on the trip, so it’s not as if once a child gets bored and starts throwing a tantrum that the entire family has to go home – there’s more freedom involved with accessing the woodland. We can also spot how a good third of families will cycle to a woodland, indicating that there is a desire for a family outing to coincide with a sort of ‘keeping fit’ mentality. Granted, cycling may generally be more feasible for families with slightly older children, as toddlers, whilst able to cycle, cannot cycle too far, and nor is it probably practical to have a young child cycle to a woodland unless it’s very close by (which isn’t usually the case, in this region of Belgium).

There is a general trend of people going to woodlands to relax, as well. Unsurprisngly, this markedly changes for those who cycle, where it shows that over 95% of those who get to the woodland via bicycle will go there for a sporting purpose. This adds weighting to the idea that families who cycle there have older children (or even a family comprised of only older generations). Such a disparity in results for those who cycle is however surprising, as it suggests only 2% of those who cycle to a woodland do so in order to relax. Perhaps there is no such thing as a leisurely bike ride, therefore?

The male:female ratio of woodland visitors is also quite distinctly different. According to this study, a good two-thirds of visitors are male. This ratio stayed true for the means of access to the site being on foot or via car, though rose sharply to 88% in favour of males if access to the woodland site was via bicycle. Maybe this has something to do with the high use of woodland sites for sporting, when the visitor arrived via bicycle. On a broader scale however, the reason for fewer females visiting is curious. Perhaps it has something to do with females feeling more wary of being alone in woodlands, or instead preferring to visit other places during free time.

woodland biking sport
Maybe cyclists arrive at woodlands in order to race or ride with or against other cyclists. Source: National Trust.

With regards to the distance travelled to get to the woodland, the data provided is not really eyebrow-raising. An average walk of 4km to get to a woodland site is somewhat fair, and it cannot be thought that anything other than a car journey would bring in the highest distance travelled to reach the desired woodland site. Walkers spending the least time (111 minutes) at a woodland is therefore not surprising, as they’ll spend probably the most time either side of their visit getting there and back. Walking will also expend the most effort in travelling (though not necessarily the most calories burned, which likely is held by those who cycle). Despite this, an average stay of 137 minutes (a little over two hours) is quite reasonable, and suggests that visitors seek a more instant impact in place of spending a whole day on site. Of course, the size of the woodland would have an impact, in this regard. If you’ve walked an entire woodland in around two hours, you may as well go home, after all. The purpose of the trip also defines the length of stay, and as it as generally the case that people were there to relax (excluding cyclists – though sporting is a form of relaxation or recreation) then dragging-out a stay may end up being stressful, as remaining somewhere only for the sake of remaining there is counter-intuitive.

If you want a more detailed breakdown of this paper, then I advise you locate a copy. I downloaded the entire journal whilst it was temporarily set as Open Access, though it appears to have once again been ‘closed’ (as of yesterday). It’s a good read, and not too heavy on the science-y stuff.

Source: Li, S., Colson, V., Lejeune, P., & Vanwambeke, S. (2016) On the distance travelled for woodland leisure via different transport modes in Wallonia, south Belgium. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 15 (1). p123-132.



Getting to a woodland – who and when?

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