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The social networks of Irish private forest owners: An exploratory study

Stoettner, Evelyn M., Ní Dhubháin, Áine
Forest policy and economics 2019 v.99 pp. 68-76
forest ownership, forests, harvesting, information exchange, interviews, people, private forestry, social networks, Ireland
Private forests in Europe are increasingly characterised by fragmented ownership and declining owner knowledge and engagement, raising concerns about the harvesting behaviour of private forest owners. The formation of forest owner groups is seen as a means not only of addressing fragmented ownership but also owner knowledge. It is also increasingly recognised that owner engagement is not only influenced by the characteristics of the owner and their forest but also the individuals that surround the owners, i.e. their social network. This study aims to explore and describe existing social networks of private forest owners in Ireland. It focusses specifically on four types of owners: forest owners who were members of a forest owner group and who had harvested; forest owners who were members of a group but had not harvested; forest owners who were not members of a group and who had harvested and finally forest owners who were not group members who had not harvested. Interviews were held with a total of 56 forest owners in the southern half of Ireland. Members of forest owner groups who have harvested had the largest and the most diverse social networks. These results suggest an association between social networks and the harvesting activity of forest owners, although the direction of the association is not clear. The persons/organisations in the social networks that were trusted most by the forest owners were the public technical advisory service (Teagasc), the forest owner group and family/friends/neighbours. Teagasc and the forest owner group were also the most influential highlighting the key role that trust plays in knowledge exchange. The study provides the first insights into the social networks of forest owners in Ireland. However, further research is required to address how social networks effectively influence forest owners' harvesting behaviour.