When pests or diseases affect trees there are economic, social and cultural impacts. The costs associated with the management of the outbreak or preventing spread and those of resulting loss of a timber crop are often clear. In order to understand the wider societal impacts that pests and diseases have, we also need to understand the social and cultural values that people associate with trees. As the number of pests and diseases increases and threatens more tree species, decisions must be taken on how to target resources for protection and control and it is important to have a good understanding of the public interest to inform this.
The project works closely with the Food and Environment Research Agency. A previous study on Dutch elm disease management that this project builds on can be found on the website http://www. york.ac.uk/sei/projects/current-projects/ culturalvalueoftrees/.
This study aims to understand the social and cultural values, or things people associate with trees, the benefits and negatives and whether these change in relation to (new) knowledge about threats of tree diseases and pests. Social and cultural values of trees are assessed in relation to variables associated with trees such as age, species, native or exotic, single trees and woodlands, and geographic distance to the participant. Priorities to protect trees are also assessed in relation to species, role in the landscape and the characteristics of associated pest and disease threats. Participants’ knowledge and understanding of pest and disease threats are also assessed.
The expert task force on tree health recommends that there should be: ‘Analyses of the cultural values attached to trees and woodland and the use of both economic and deliberative methods to test and refine the public interest case for government intervention to protect tree health’. This study adds to an understanding of social and cultural risks associated with tree health and will inform decisions on the prioritisation and funding of tree health. The research also contributes to understanding how best to communicate risk associated with tree health.