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Public and community attitudes to urban trees

In his review ‘Communicating the benefits of urban trees’, published in ‘Arboricultural Journal’ in 2016, Andy Moffat identified that there was very little evidence to provide a modern understanding of urban dwellers’ interests in trees where they live. Soon afterwards, a Public Opinion of Forestry survey conducted on behalf of the Forestry Commission (in 2017) suggested that there is significant ambivalence, and even dislike of urban trees, in some quarters. However, the nature of the survey didn’t allow for an effective analysis of motivations and attitudes. Andy argued in his paper that the need for such an understanding “has never been greater” and subsequently developed a research proposal to fill this important knowledge gap.

Financial support for the project has taken some time to capture, but hard work by colleagues in Forest Research, coupled with professional support from Trees and Design Action Group (TDAG) and its members has brought a range of stakeholders together to develop and fund the project. This will be led by colleagues in the Social and Economic Research Group (SERG) in Forest Research. Andy Moffat has been appointed to act as a Critical Friend in the project. The project involves both qualitative and quantitative research, and outputs will be published next year.

How can the general public assist in identifying tree ill-health?

The UK has experienced a series of outbreaks of invasive tree pests and diseases (P&Ds) in recent decades, perhaps the best known of which is Dutch Elm Disease which removed elm from almost all parts of the British Isles in the 1970s and 80s. More recently, a series of equally dangerous P&Ds have arrived, including a fungal pathogen that threatens ash trees across the country. Rapid identification of tree ill-health can help officials control and even eradicate these P&Ds but this requires a large resource of trained staff. To what extent can willing members of the general public, suitably trained, support official surveillance? A paper has just been published which describes a project to explore this in some detail. The study, conducted by university and government scientists, enlisted the help of people across the country who completed over 2800 surveys covering more than 4500 trees. Organised by OPAL (Open Air Laboratories), the study showed that suitably trained, there is a real level of enthusiasm to deliver information of importance to officials responsible for the country’s tree health. Andy Moffat was one of the two authors of the paper which describes the study. You can download a copy HERE.

Safer alternatives to synthetic pesticides for controlling insect pests in forestry

The large pine weevil, Hylobius abietis, is a insect pest with a taste for young trees. Without effective control, it can easily destroy all newly planted trees on a conifer clearfell site. For many years, the main method of defence from Hylobius has been to treat the trees with synthetic pyrethroid pesticides, but over the last decade or so the forest industry has been on the search for less hazardous alternatives. From 2009, Forest Research has undertaken a very large research programme to find possible safer alternatives. In 2019, it asked Andy Moffat to help in writing up the research so that peer-reviewed publications could be produced. The first of three planned scientific papers reporting on this collaborative research effort has recently been published in the journal Forestry. This initial paper reports on the effectiveness of over fifty different combinations of chemical and non-chemical approaches, which were tested on sixteen different sites. It concludes that there several new protection strategies could alleviate the need for commonly used pyrethroid pesticides and thus help to protect the environment. The paper can be downloaded HERE.

Where do we plant all those trees that everyone thinks will help reduce global warming?

At the last election in Britain, all the main political parties promised the electorate that they would ensure millions of trees were planted. The current government is supporting the planting of 130,000 trees in urban centres (see HERE), using an (unattributed) image of the silver maple trees in Petersfield Square taken by Andy Moffat! In East Hampshire, the District Council has promised to plant a tree for each resident, namely 120,000 trees, over the next few years. However, it is not clear where, in many towns, space can be found to meet these targets – hard infrastructure dominates and green infrastructure is limited in area. The Petersfield Society has now launched a project to explore where in the parish sites can be identified for potential planting. Working jointly with colleagues in the Urban Forest Research Group in Forest Research, Andy Moffat is leading this citizen science project. Further information can be found HERE.

A small contribution to important wildfire research in New Zealand

Andy Moffat was pleased to be invited to participate in baseline vegetation monitoring as part of a large wildfire experiment whilst visiting New Zealand this year. The internationally supported research, led by Scion’s Rural Research Fire Group, sought to test an American hypothesis that convective heat transfer plays a more prominent role in fire spread than previously thought. The hypothesis has been tested in 2020 in a series of heavily instrumented fire experiments in mature gorse at Redcliffs Station, Rakaia Gorge, Canterbury. More information can be found on the Scion website and a video of the experimentation can be viewed HERE.

Visiting Professorship at the University of Reading renewed again

Andy Moffat’s Visiting Professorship at the University of Reading has been renewed for a further three years. Andy graduated at Reading and was granted the title of Visiting Professor with the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science in 2007. He has maintained close links with the university throughout his career and co-supervised a number of PhD students there. He remains actively involved, for example in projects on citizen science and soil health, and is part of the Mentor scheme there.

The University of Reading ( is one of the UK’s leading research-intensive universities and is in the top 30 universities in the UK (QS World University Rankings 2020).