Branching Out: A New Project Under UKRI’s Future Treescapes Programme

Date: 2021-2024

Funder: Natural Environment Research Council; Arts and Humanities Research Council

Partners: Forest Research; Open University; Stockholm Environment Institute (York); University of York

Value: £2.32m

‘Branching Out’, a new project under UKRI’s Future Treescapes Programme, and led by Professor Mike Wilson at the Storytelling Academy, is seeking to combine the social and cultural values of our urban treescapes with the biophysical data. It will use storytelling and citizen science to bring new voices into the public discourse around trees and to co-produce knowledge to support robust planning and policy for a sustainable future.

 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 that treescapes can provide – such as health and wellbeing, green infrastructure, and social amenity.

Most studies on urban treescapes neglect wider social and cultural values that cannot easily be quantified. Consequently, the symbolic, heritage, spiritual, social, and cultural values of treescapes are not meaningfully accounted for.

Local authorities need a vision of future societal needs and the forms of future treescapes that might meet them.

‘Branching Out’ aims to realise this vision by developing new ways of mapping, predicting, and communicating social and cultural values to support robust, evidence-based decision making and management. It will evaluate the social and cultural values of urban trees across three cities: York, Cardiff, and Milton Keynes.

The research 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: linking biophysical features with social and cultural values. The team’s approach will map both values that are generalisable and those that are particular and highly situated.

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.

Click here to hear the research team talk about how they will be ‘Branching Out’.