Branching out new routes to valuing urban treescapes

Lead Research Organisation: Open University
Department Name: Faculty of Sci, Tech, Eng & Maths (STEM)

Abstract

A climate emergency has been declared by 74% of UK local authorities. As they respond to this via increased tree planting targets for carbon sequestration, it is imperative that they also realise the multiple public benefits - health and wellbeing, green infrastructure, social amenity, the green economy - that treescapes can provide. Local authorities need a vision of future societal needs and the forms of future treescapes that might meet them; we will deliver the evidence and decision making processes to realise such a vision.
Most studies on the biophysical and amenity aspects of urban treescapes neglect wider social and cultural values that cannot easily be quantified. Consequently, the symbolic, heritage, spiritual and social and cultural (S&C) values of treescapes are not meaningfully accounted for. This problem is becoming increasingly acute, as protests arise around individual trees (Sheffield street trees) or woods (proposed sale of the public forest estate), exacerbated by pressure from business and housing development. 'Branching Out' will evaluate the S&C values of urban trees across three cities, and develop new ways of mapping, predicting and communicating those values to support robust, evidence-based decision making and management.
The three selected focus cities purposefully have different planning histories, supporting subsequent widespread adoption of our novel approach. York (historical) and Cardiff (post-industrial) are county towns, while Milton Keynes is a post-1960s new town. Each city has particular, yet not uncommon, challenges relating to their treescapes, has declared a climate emergency, and expects trees to play a role in mitigation and adaptation. Our central tenet comprises three broad approaches: 1) co-production, using deliberative methods with citizens and stakeholders, to develop a holistic value framework; 2) storytelling, creating narrative accounts of meaning and value of the past, present and future; 3) mapping, to link biophysical features and S&C values. Our approach will map both values that are generalisable and those that are particular and highly situated.
Our mapping approaches encompass the past, present and future, using historical sources to map the impact of past values on current treescape form and function. We will use our established tree citizen science platform, Treezilla, to collect biophysical data from new Urban Tree Observatories. Remote sensing will characterise tree condition and canopy properties, and scale the biophysical data across the focal cities. This project will address local authorities' need for high-resolution mapping of tree characteristics, resulting in Europe's largest, most robust urban tree dataset, accompanied by descriptors of S&C value that can be used to recreate such datasets across other urban areas using freely available satellite data. The tools we co-create will provide local authorities with useable evidence for decision making to predict the impacts of developments or changes on S&C value, and enable them to calculate more accurately the impacts of changes on ecosystem services. Such multidimensional mapping can reveal inequalities in current and future provision of benefits as treescapes change through time, providing a better understanding of how and where those inequalities can be addressed.
A series of design workshops will experiment with ways of mapping S&C values in relation to the remote-sensed biophysical characteristics of our urban treescapes, producing techniques and tools for sensing and mapping values. Using these tools as provocations, we will speculate on possible futures for our urban treescapes, built around an appreciation and understanding of S&C values. Through these methods this project will embed S&C values in planning and decision-making for urban trees at local and national scales, thereby meeting society's and planning needs now and in the future.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Branching Out consortium 
Organisation Loughborough University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contributed expertise to the consortium on citizen science, tree data, tree ecosystem services, mapping and participatory methods.
Collaborator Contribution Loughborough University and the University of York and SEI have contributed expertise on participatory methods and approaches to valuing social and cultural values of trees.
Impact The main outcome at this stage was the successful grant application for the Future of UK Treescapes programme.
Start Year 2021
 
Description Branching Out consortium 
Organisation Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)
Department Stockholm Environment Institute,York
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contributed expertise to the consortium on citizen science, tree data, tree ecosystem services, mapping and participatory methods.
Collaborator Contribution Loughborough University and the University of York and SEI have contributed expertise on participatory methods and approaches to valuing social and cultural values of trees.
Impact The main outcome at this stage was the successful grant application for the Future of UK Treescapes programme.
Start Year 2021
 
Description Branching Out consortium 
Organisation University of York
Department York Environmental Sustainability Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contributed expertise to the consortium on citizen science, tree data, tree ecosystem services, mapping and participatory methods.
Collaborator Contribution Loughborough University and the University of York and SEI have contributed expertise on participatory methods and approaches to valuing social and cultural values of trees.
Impact The main outcome at this stage was the successful grant application for the Future of UK Treescapes programme.
Start Year 2021
 
Description British Council STEM Education Hub Event - Citizen science and basic education: how to develop a project with schools' engagement in scientific research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The British Council STEM Education Hub hosted an online seminar - Citizen science and basic education: how to develop a project with schools' engagement in scientific research? (https://www.stemeducationhub.co.uk/citizen-science-and-basic-education-how-to-develop-a-project-with-schools-engagement-in-scientific-research/) on August 11, 2021. The event had simultaneous interpretation available in both English and Portuguese.

The event focused on demonstrating practical approaches to develop schools' engagement in scientific research. Specialists from the UK and Brazil led roundtables to discuss and explore with participants the concept of citizen science and practical approaches to implement research/evidence-based pedagogies.
Ansine was invited to be a panellist and provided practice-based insights with examples of OU projects and platforms demonstrating UK collaboration between a university, schools and the public through citizen science. Presentation available here: https://www.stemeducationhub.co.uk/citizen-science-and-basic-education-how-to-develop-a-project-with-schools-engagement-in-scientific-research/. Citizen science project examples demonstrated included iSpot (www.iSpotnature.org), Treezilla (www.treezill.org) and X:Pollination (https://xpollination.org/).

Teachers attended showed interest in all examples asking questions with further folllowup queries after the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.stemeducationhub.co.uk/citizen-science-and-basic-education-how-to-develop-a-project-with...
 
Description COP26 Green Zone event: Ancient knowledge and Modern Thinking: Climate Perspectives in Folk Art 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The OU co-hosted a GreenZone event at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26),in Glasgow, Scotland on November 7, 2021 entitled Ancient Knowledge and Modern Thinking: Climate Perspectives in Folk Art (https://ukcop26.org/events/ancient-knowledge-and-modern-thinking-climate-perspectives-in-folk-art/ ). Janice Ansine was one of the speakers selected and explored connections between culture, citizens, and climate. This was a thought-provoking session that intersected the worlds of culture, science and technology.

Ansine highlighted a citizen science approach provides opportunities to explore, record, identify, collaborate, contribute, learn and personalise experiences noting examples of technological innovations that citizens can use to record and protect nature, such as Treezilla, and the Branching Out project. with Branching Out, citizen science is integrated in new ways of mapping, predicting, and communicating the social and cultural values of trees. This is combined with urban tree observatories, hyperspectral remote sensing and historic mapping to develop Europe's largest, most robust urban tree dataset, using Treezilla to map changes and inform evidence-based decisions around urban treescapes

iSpotnature.org and the DECIDE project, also featured and it was noted how iSpot experiences are being used to enhance biodiversity information enabling volunteers to record nature where it matters through the DECIDE project.

Over 100 attended in person and 1.6 thousand joined the event online, the recording is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76oloGAqtBc. These were also part of associated social media and other promotions: about the event i.e.: https://linktr.ee/iSpotnature_citizen.science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76oloGAqtBc