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An Evaluation of Six i-Tree Eco in Studies conducted in Great Britain
Numerous tools have been developed to assist environmental decision-making, but there has been little examination of whether these tools achieve this aim, particularly for urban environments. This study aimed to evaluate the use of the i-Tree Eco tool in Great Britain, an assessment tool developed to support urban forest management. The study employed a documentary review, an online survey, and interviews in six case study areas to examine five impacts (instrumental, conceptual, capacity-building, enduring connectivity, and culture/attitudes towards knowledge exchange) and to identify which factors inhibited or supported achievement of impact. It revealed that the i-Tree Eco projects had helped to increase knowledge of urban forests and awareness of the benefits they provide. While there was often broad use of i-Tree Eco findings in various internal reports, external forums, and discussions of wider policies and plans, direct changes relating to improved urban forest management, increased funding or new tree policies were less frequent. The barriers we identified which limited impact included a lack of project champions, policy drivers and resources, problems with knowledge transfer and exchange, organisational and staff change, and negative views of trees. Overall, i-Tree Eco, similar to other environmental decision-making tools, can help to improve the management of urban trees when planned as one step in a longer process of engagement with stakeholders and development of new management plans and policies. In this first published impact evaluation of multiple i-Tree Eco projects, we identified eight lessons to enhance the impact of future i-Tree Eco projects, transferable to other environmental decision-making tools.
Great Britain’s urban forest resource is under increasing threat from the impacts of pollution, neglect, development and construction, health and safety concerns and risk management, other budgetary priorities, and a lack of evidence of its value to society. Tools such as the i-Tree Eco surveys provide public bodies and others with evidence of the urban forest resource in their area, the benefits it provides, and the other costs it can help to avoid. This should help to leverage resources and activity, and change attitudes. However, despite the fact that more than twenty i-Tree Eco surveys have been carried out across the UK, it is unclear as yet to what extent they have led to renewed enthusiasm for managing, protecting and enhancing the urban forest resource so as to maximise the ecosystem services they provide. This publication reports the results of an online questionnaire and interviews with a range of stakeholders with knowledge and experience of i-Tree Eco surveys. The purpose was to learn from their experiences, and investigate their views of how successful i-Tree Eco has been thus far. This evaluation study investigated a number of aspects of the experiences of stakeholders, including the impact they believed i-Tree Eco studies have had, barriers to impact and ways to overcome the barriers.
The Tawe catchment i-Tree Eco project assessed urban areas of three local authorities in South Wales: City & County of Swansea (CCS), Powys County and Neath-Port Talbot County Borough. The project was funded by NRW where the i-Tree Eco survey would be one of ten pilot projects to gather evidence and identify opportunities to improve sustainable management of resources, as examples to deliver the Welsh Government’s Environment Bill.
The first project in the UK to utilise volunteer surveyors and when completed was the largest i-Tree Eco project in the world. The project was run by a partnership of the Forestry Commission, Greater London Authority, Treeconomics, Greenspace Information for Greater London, London Tree Officers Association, Natural England, Trees for Cities, The Tree Council and Forest Research. The project aimed to improve understanding of London’s tree stock (GLA, 2005) and act as an exemplar for citizen scientists in i-Tree Eco fieldwork.
Sidmouth is the UK’s first ‘civic’ arboretum: it encompasses the entire town rather than a separate single site. Established in 2010, the arboretum aims to maintain and enhance the area through tree planting and protection. The i-Tree Eco project was initiated and led by the charity Sidmouth Civic Arboretum, with support from Treeconomics in project design and training of surveyors. The survey was carried out by volunteers; local schools were also engaged in data collection.