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Lost in a forest

People are terrified of getting lost in forests according to a University of St Andrews psychologist commissioned by the Forestry Commission to help shape the future of the nation’s woodlands.

In a study of around 800 people, Professor Terence Lee of the School of Psychology found that folklore, fairy tales and horror films are causing tourists to steer clear of forests.

His report, entitled Perceptions, Attitudes and Preferences in Forests and Woodlands, could lead to significant changes to forests throughout the UK. Work is already underway at Grizedale Forest in the Lake District which will create wider paths, provide more information boards and clear large areas of trees. Meanwhile, similar work at the Forest of Dean near Bristol led to the felling of 15% of its trees.

Twenty-five percent of those surveyed admitted to feeling vulnerable in forests. Women feared getting lost and generally stayed near the entrance. Many people perceive forests as dense, dark and dangerous and over 50% of women and a third of men feel “lost” and “frightened” in forests. A third feared they might be accused of trespassing and many feared they would experience claustrophobia.

Professor Lee said, “It goes back to our childhood and the fact that people are brought up on Hansel and Gretel and Babes in the Wood. People are genuinely terrified of getting lost.”

In another part of the study, more than 1,500 people were interviewed as they entered forests and asked to pick landscapes they preferred from a series of photographs. Researchers found that water features including lakes, streams and waterfalls were most popular.

“Water features seem to hold the greatest aesthetic value rather than the actual trees,” said Professor Lee.

“It may be connected to an evolutionary instinct. For our ancestors, finding water was not just calming but a question of life or death.”

ENDS Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email cg24@st-andrews.ac.uk Ref: forests/standrews/chg/1april2002

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