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Looking backwards – and forwards

2016 was another good year for A J Moffat & Associates, with consolidation around soil, arboricultural and training services in particular. Consultancies included work for the Gilbert White Museum in Hampshire, Bangor University and a number of architectural practices. As usual, a significant knowledge transfer programme was maintained with several peer reviewed journal papers and articles published on tree health, citizen science, housing and land reclamation, forest fire hazards and urban forestry. A highlight was co-authorship of a comprehensive report on the state and trends in European forest ecosystems, published by the European Environment Agency. Workshops on demystifying soils for the arboricultural sector were well attended and well received across the country. Some university teaching was also given. At a personal level, Andy Moffat’s Visiting Professorship at the University of Reading was renewed for the third time. He was invited to represent the UK in two Horizon 2020 workshops on soil and land management research in Portugal and Italy, and at a meeting of the Expert Group on Forest Fires in Brussels.

Looking forward to 2017, in addition to delivering more workshops on climate change and soils for the arboricultural sector, new plans are in progress for the delivery of relevant expertise through training and knowledge exchange activities. A particular focus on urban forestry research is planned. Further publications in citizen science, urban tree survey, disaster risk management, forest fires, soil health and restoration ecology are already under way. In addition, A J Moffat & Associates will be again seeking to explore new areas both geographically and scientifically – beginning with a seminar at Lincoln University in New Zealand in March. All interesting offers or proposals will be considered too – it would be good to work with or for you!

Update: a pdf of Andy’s presentation “The place of trees in urban areas – an ecosystems approach to policy making” is available HERE

Botanic Gardens – valuable environmental resources

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) defines botanic gardens as “institutions holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education.” Botanic Gardens hold plant collections which date back decades and centuries and thus provide invaluable resources for the detection and study of environmental change. A J Moffat & Associates have recently been invited to evaluate the soil resources in the Arboretum at Treborth Botanic Gardens, part of Bangor University (, in support of the future management of important trees there. As well as plant collections in the grounds of Treborth Gardens, temperate and tropical houses support significant collections of plants, including orchids. The Gardens are also remarkable in housing the largest Rhizotron in Europe, an invaluable resource for the study of soil.

Detailed soil information is vital for effective planning and management of plant collections such as those at Treborth, and A J Moffat & Associates would be delighted to support other Botanic Gardens interested in these services. The company has previously worked on projects at the Gilbert White Museum in Selborne, and Marwell Zoo, near Winchester in Hampshire.

Visiting Professorship at the University of Reading renewed

Pleased to register that 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 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.

The University of Reading ( is celebrating the 90th anniversary of its Royal Charter this year. It is a world-class university and in the top 1% world-wide according to the QS University World Rankings 2016/17.

Can Citizen Science fit in with traditional science and play a useful part?

OPAL (OPen Air Laboratories) is a UK-based public engagement in science programme which utilises citizen science (CS) to deliver both outreach and research. It has been running since 2007 and is based at Imperial College, London. Andy Moffat has been involved with OPAL since 2012 and was a founder member of the OPAL Working Group which launched a tree health survey for public participation in 2013. The important work that OPAL does has now been published in a series of papers in a special Supplement of BMC Ecology.

One of the five papers was co-authored by Andy and discusses whether CS can really hope to make a credible contribution to research as well as help to bring science to those who are comparatively unfamiliar with it. The review identifies that trade-offs between research delivery and community outreach must be recognised and planned for before embarking on a CS project that is expected to deliver scientific outcomes. However, it concludes that well planned projects can yield valuable outputs of real value to the scientific and policy communities.

INSPIRATION in soil and land management – a much needed component!

The recent House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s report on soil health has revealed that the importance of soil for society isn’t currently matched by Government actions to maintain and improve its quality. The report identifies a number of serious threats to soil functioning which require attention now in order to enable soil sustainable management by 2030.

At a European level, a project funded under the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme seeks to identify what knowledge gaps and other constraints are preventing sustainable use of land and soil. The main aim of this ‘INSPIRATION’ project is “to develop a Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) to inform environmentally friendly, socially acceptable and economically affordable soil and land use management that meets societal needs and challenges”. Sixteen countries, including the UK, are involved in this project which is led in Britain by the University of Nottingham.

The main activities in the first half of this three year project have been to establish national and shared European priorities for research. Andy Moffat was pleased to be invited to participate in this process and recently acted as one of four possible National Key Stakeholders (NKS) at a Workshop in Faro, Portugal. NKS are expected to give advice on emerging strategic research needs and influence the evolution of the SRA so that it meets user needs. Additional involvement in the project will involve participation in another Workshop in September where the SRA will be further developed.

Communicating the benefits of urban trees

Despite increasing knowledge and a raft of publications identifying the benefits of urban trees and urban forests, we are still losing trees in many British towns and cities, sometimes at an alarming rate. A paper by Andy Moffat published at the end of May in ‘Arboricultural Journal’ seeks to explore this dichotomy, identify possible causal factors and propose some ways to bring tree professionals, communities and politicians together so that urban trees can receive more appropriate recognition.

The paper reviews the multiple interpretations placed on urban forestry and points to weaknesses in current approaches to communicating the benefits of urban trees. It identifies new opportunities which should be used to engage urban people and build a new understanding of trees. Increasingly, use of digital communication is seen as the most effective way of reaching communities, together with evaluation systems that quantify the value of relevant ecosystem services to urban inhabitants. The paper strongly suggests that traditional methods of communication are not working and that a new approach is necessary, especially in recessionary times.