Nine new UK Treescapes fellows look to answer some key questions surrounding Treescape Expansion in the UK.
They will bring these fundamental questions about the Future of UK Treescapes to a wider audience through collaborations with stakeholders, the development of new tools, policy recommendations and public engagement activities.
The Future of UK Treescapes fellowships were launched by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as part of the Future of UK Treescapes Programme. A £15.6 million programme designed to improve environmental, socio-economic and cultural understandings of the functions and services provided by UK treescapes.
The new cohort of fellows will conduct ground-breaking new projects working within the UK and Europe, which will be translated and delivered to stakeholders. The Fellowships are supported with a £340,000 investment from the Natural Environment Research Council, part of UKRI and Defra.
Dr Julie Urquhart, Co-Ambassador for the Future of UK Treescapes said: “Our nine Fellows will undertake research and knowledge exchange across a wide range of topics related to the Treescapes programme, including two international exchange placements. The projects include developing tree plans for urban cooling and flood alleviation, woodland restoration, improving seed supply and addressing barriers to silvoarable. Our Fellows will collaborate with policymakers and practitioners to ensure that the outcomes from their projects have practical relevance at the local, regional or national scale.”
Their plans include: writing a children’s book inspired by the elm tree, making a grand tour of Europe to learn from diverse experiences of managing wood pastures, and working alongside urban planners to reimagine city treescapes in a way that helps us deal with extreme heat.
Professor Clive Potter, Co-Ambassador for the Future of UK Treescapes said: “We’re delighted to welcome the Fellows to the Future Treescapes programme. They will join a growing network of researchers investigating the many different dimensions of woodland expansion in the UK. Treescape fellowships are designed to give their recipients an opportunity to spend up to 12 months working on topics they are passionate about. We are excited to see the results of their work.” Meet the UK Treescapes Fellows
Urban trees deliver different amounts of benefits depending on where they are planted. For example, the ability of street trees to reduce our exposure to pollution from vehicles, just a few feet from us, depends on local wind conditions and their interactions with nearby buildings.
AFFORE3ST (Advancing a planning Framework FOr Regionally Enhanced & Equitable Ecosystem Services from urban Treescapes) aims to help focus urban tree planting where it will deliver the greatest benefits to those who need them most.
Dr Levine will be working in partnership with Trees for Cities and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to integrate the Green Infrastructure for Roadside Air Quality (GI4RAQ) computer model into mapping software. This will help identify priority areas for planting to reduce local exposure to vehicular pollution via changes in polluted airflow. They will also explore, with local residents, how this technology can best support community-centred planting as they develop a Strategic Planting Plan for the London borough of Tower Hamlets.
The Wych Elm is the only native elm species in the UK and, much like the English Elm or clone of the Field elm, millions of trees have been infected and killed by Dutch elm disease (DED) leaving eerie standing skeletons across the landscape. However, even in the most infected areas, individual trees still survive, indicating that resilience to DED exists.
During this fellowship, Dr Euan Bowditch will focus on identifying and collecting samples from surviving wych elms in three areas of Scotland, including the Borders and Highlands where the repeated intensive spread of DED has occurred, as well as the Scottish Islands that safeguard isolated populations that remain untouched by DED.
Over 300 surviving and infected sprouting trees will be sampled and genetically analysed from these areas using microsatellite markers to understand the genetic diversity and similarity of the species across the landscape, identify the potential resilience of different populations, and establish any similar traits between surviving trees.
Additionally, techniques will be learnt for breeding and reproducing elms by mixing resilient individuals together to naturally regenerate over time, to help the creation of resilient seed banks for local restoration.
Alongside this scientific exploration of resilience, Dr Euan Bowditch will produce a children’s book to raise awareness of the elm and highlight ways in which citizen scientists from all over the country can become involved in the elm hunt.
Tree cover in the UK is amongst the lowest in Europe and expanding the UK’s treescapes will require millions of seeds from native, climate-resilient trees. But supplying these seeds is a major challenge, with risks associated with inadequate or unreliable seed quality and the introduction of pests and pathogens.
In this fellowship, Dr Andrew Hacket-Pain will facilitate knowledge exchange with Austria’s Future Forest Seeds (FORSEE), a major interdisciplinary project focused on securing seed supply for forest expansion. Initially focussing on two UK oak species (Quercus petraea and Quercus robur), Dr Hacket-Pain will work alongside the Future Trees Trust, Action Oak and the Woodland Trust, to identify and translate knowledge that will help the UK overcome barriers to treescape expansion.
Dr Hacket-Pain will also extend the FORSEE seed production forecasting framework to the UK and will work with UK partners to ensure this prototype tool will meet the needs of potential users. Finally, he will work with the Woodland Trust to review the engagement of private forest owners in the UK’s seed supply chain.
Over 80% of England’s population live in urban areas where the impacts of extreme heatwaves are exacerbated by dense concentrations of materials such as concrete that absorb and retain heat. However, there is growing evidence that these effects can be mitigated by trees.
Yet trees provided to urban residents are not equally distributed to the most vulnerable, including the elderly and socio-economically disadvantaged, communities often not receiving the benefits from tree planting.
In this fellowship, Jo Ryan will collaborate with the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York to develop a set of workable principles that urban planners can use. With a focus on communities that are most vulnerable to urban heat, they will seek to identify appropriate species and planting locations that would maximise cooling benefits. In addition, care facilities will be used as case studies to illustrate the impact of existing treescapes and to identify opportunities for increasing urban tree cover in ways that can fit within the urban structure.
The Environment Agency estimates that around 5.2 million properties in the UK are at risk from river flooding. They also estimate that this amount will double in the next 50 years due to climate change and historic changes in land use, such as deforestation, agricultural practices, artificial drainage, and urbanization.
Floodplain forests have been proven to reduce the risks of flooding by offering blockage of the flow of water. In addition, these areas offer important benefits to biodiversity, water quality, health and our culture.
During this Fellowship, Leon Baruah, in partnership with Alexander Antonarakis at the University of Sussex, will create a conceptual model that will demonstrate flood impacts with different types of floodplain treescapes, including natural vs manmade, age, species mix and treescape locations. This will help to identify pathways towards reforesting degraded floodplains.
This effort will focus on the rivers Uck and Ouse in Sussex, where the Sussex Wildlife Trust is working to restore floodplain functioning with woodland creation including native floodplain species such as black poplar.
Little is known about mountain woodland in the UK, and over recent centuries these native treescapes have been significantly reduced due to human activity, making them one of the rarest habitats in the UK. Yet restoration of these zones could play a key role in national treescape expansion and add structural diversity, climate resilience and new habitats for mountainous species.
There have been a few attempts at rescuing these zones recently, including a genetic rescue project that has so far planted over 4,300 montane willows around the Loch Avon Basin, a key mountain woodland expansion area in the Cairngorms, which includes several fragmented populations of nationally scarce downy willow. However, there is considerable uncertainty around the likely outcomes.
Throughout this fellowship, Ellie Dimambro-Denson will work alongside the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) to tap into Norwegian knowledge on mountain woodland restoration. Specifically, Ellie will focus on the establishment of three types of montane willows: downy willow, tea-leaved willow and grey willow, which NINA have worked to restore and monitor in their native mountain regions.
The learning and knowledge that could be gained through this partnership with NINA could help ensure the success of the Loch Avon Basin project and future projects of this kind.
Silvoarable agroforestry (growing trees and crops simultaneously in the same field) may help mitigate climate change and create climate resilience within the farming industry, and the UK government is aiming to increase agroforestry to 10% of farmland by 2050.
But despite this, there are several barriers hindering adoption in the UK, including financial and knowledge constraints. During this fellowship, Dr Amelia Hood will work alongside the agroforestry research group at the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, to identify these barriers and provide solutions to them.
Dr Hood will partner with Defra to conduct stakeholder interviews and summarise evidence for policymakers. Additionally, through a placement at the Biodiversified AgroecoSYStems Unit in France, where silvoarable systems are more widely used, Dr Hood will bring back new ideas and approaches for the UK. Finally, Dr Hood will bring all this evidence together and provide training and education tools to UK farmers in a workshop alongside FarmEd and will create a space where stakeholders can co-design practical solutions via recommendations for policy, research, and educational outputs.
Existing knowledge suggests that treescapes can help to regulate overheating and air pollution in our cities. There is a need to measure these impacts to provide policymakers with robust evidence that can support the protection and expansion of urban treescapes. These types of measurements are however complex and need to be carried out over long periods of time.
In this fellowship, Dr Jim Parker will use data from a large existing network of environmental sensors across the city of Leeds to understand in more detail the role that treescapes have on the atmosphere we live in and will share resultant knowledge with key stakeholders that will influence the UK’s future treescapes.
By consolidating relationships between Leeds Beckett University, the University of Leeds and Leeds City Council, it will also help to demonstrate the role that anchor institutions can play in large urban areas and complex city-scale issues, and how these relationships can have a positive impact on the cities we live in.
Wood pastures in the UK uplands are areas of ecologically diverse and beautiful landscapes that balance food production, forestry and conservation. These areas combine open woodland with grazing animals such as sheep, cattle or goats and they are tremendously valuable in terms of biodiversity and carbon storage.
Dr Robert Mills will use his time during this project to help define what our uplands might look like over the coming decades, and how we can increase the resilience of rural livelihoods and the wider economy.
He will do this by learning from farmers and land managers across Europe: from the ancient wood pastures of Romania to the mountainous pastures of Switzerland, moving onto the drier climate of Spain and finally finishing with Estonia where wood pastures are a central part of their landscape.
After developing a deep hub of knowledge on wood pastures, he will engage a large range of UK stakeholders who are managing the uplands and seeking new opportunities to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises. And he will translate this knowledge into a policy briefing document for use by the devolved nations and associated conservation and policy teams.