£2.3m study to evaluate the social and cultural values of urban trees

Date posted: August 13, 2021
sun shines through green leafy tree canopies

A climate emergency has been declared by 74% of UK local authorities and many are responding to the issue by increasing their tree planting targets, as this will help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Symbolic, heritage, spiritual, social, and cultural values are placed on trees so it is important local authorities acknowledge and consider the impact trees have on public wellbeing when planning future treescapes and managing those that already exist.

Time spent in natural green spaces has been shown to improve mental health and reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

The importance of trees and blue-green spaces has further outlined by their inclusion in the Ten Point Plan for Green Growth in the Midlands Engine, launched last month.

‘Branching Out’ is a new project led by Loughborough University that aims to develop new ways of mapping, predicting, and communicating the social and cultural values of trees so local authorities can make robust, evidence-based decisions around urban treescapes.

The three-year-long £2.32m study, which is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and in collaboration with Forest Research, the Open University, the University of York, and SEI (Stockholm Environment Institute) York, will evaluate the social and cultural values of urban trees across three cities: York, Cardiff, and Milton Keynes.

The research, which is being led by Loughborough University’s Mike Wilson, Professor of Drama and Director of the Storytelling Academy in the School of Design and Creative Arts, brings together expertise from a wide range of disciplines – from environmental and social sciences, to arts and humanities, to urban planning and design.

The researchers will also develop detailed maps of the focal cities’ urban treescapes by combining citizen science, urban tree observatories, hyperspectral remote sensing, historic mapping, and amenity modelling resulting in Europe’s largest, most robust urban tree dataset.

The established citizen science platform, www.treezilla.org, will be used to map changes in urban treescapes.

The dataset will be accompanied by descriptors of social and cultural values – meaning it can be used to recreate similar datasets across other urban areas using freely available satellite data.

Of the importance of the research, Professor Wilson said:

Branching Out is a very exciting project to be part of.

Not only do we have the opportunity to make a real difference to the way that social and cultural values of trees are properly considered, leading to fully rounded and informed planning and policy-making, but also to integrate our research in storytelling with environmental and social science expertise, as a way of bringing additional voices and experiences into the public discourse around the future of our urban treescapes.

It is a unique opportunity to bring together knowledge from across a wide range of disciplines and develop new ways of addressing these important issues.

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