Understanding small-scale private forest owners is a basis for transformative change towards integrative conservation.

Published online
17 Apr 2024
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

Tiebel, M. & Mölder, A. & Bieling, C. & Hansen, P. & Plieninger, T.
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Balancing societal demands on forests is a major challenge in current forest management. Small-scale private forest owners are an important ownership group that is rarely addressed directly in this discussion. Our study aims to identify and differentiate between private forest owner groups. Based on this, we take a systemic approach and determine leverage points that can be used to foster transformative change towards integrative conservation-oriented forest management. We conducted a survey of 1656 small-scale private forest owners in northwest Germany within a typical European multi-ownership landscape and formed three clusters based on their activities. While all groups generally perceived nature conservation as important, they differed with regard to their forest management activities. Multiple-use-oriented forest owners (45%) were most active, including in terms of conservation measures. Conservation-oriented owners (25%) mainly focused on passive measures, and conventional owners (30%) showed only a little engagement with conservation-related activities. Despite the differences, common instruments promoting conservation activities were identified. They included, for example on-site consultation, information about legal regulations and financial incentives. Based on four system characteristics (parameters, feedback, design and intent), we identified leverage points towards transformative change. The deep and thus effective leverage points are changing the discourse, accounting for the heterogeneity of private forest owners as well as for uncertainty related to climate change and adapting measures to local contexts. Furthermore, working towards increasing awareness, knowledge and interest as well as accounting for the desire for autonomy and control are promising pathways for change. A holistic transformation of forest policy and management towards integrative conservation is urgently needed to meet the current challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and timber demand. This transformation has to go beyond the adaptation of existing policy instruments and instead focus on systematic and cross-sectoral changes in the underlying policy orientation, its design and its implementation.

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