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Researching the social and cultural values of urban trees

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OU researchers have received funding from UK Research and Innovation to explore the social and cultural values of urban trees to improve the management of urban forests.

The three-year £2.23 million project: Branching out is led by Loughborough University and includes the OU, University of York and Forest Research.

The OU, which has just received almost £488,000 for its role in the project, will draw on its established citizen science platform Treezilla which resulted in Europe's largest, most robust urban tree dataset, to recreate similar datasets for this project.

Dr Philip Wheeler, Senior Lecturer at the Open University’s School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, said:

“This is a very significant amount of funding and it will really help us understand the many different ways people value trees through the Branching Out project.

“At the OU we have been helping people get a better understanding of the trees around them through the Treezilla citizen science project. But we don’t know as much as we should about the social and cultural values of trees. This funding is an incredibly exciting prospect for all of us involved in urban trees and citizen science.”

Dr Wheeler is leading the OU part of the project along with colleagues Janice Ansine, Dr Kadmiel Maseyk and Dr Joe Fennell.

The project will work with urban tree managers and communities to evaluate the social and cultural values of urban trees across three cities: York, Cardiff, and Milton Keynes. It will involve working with citizens and other stakeholders to develop a holistic value framework, using storytelling to engage more participants, and advanced mapping techniques to link biological and physical features of trees with their social and cultural values. The findings will be used to help tree managers and environmental planners maximise the benefits of urban forests to society.

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