Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arboricultural Association.

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i-Tree Eco – Is it having an impact on the urban tree resource?

Last Updated:  19/06/2018

i-Tree Eco (www.itreetools.org and www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/itree) is intended to provide the evidence needed to justify more and better management of urban trees so that everyone gains from the benefits they provide. But is that actually happening across Great Britain? Have i-Tree Eco surveys led to more awareness, resources and collaboration, or perhaps better policies and management?

Forest Research conducted an evaluation study of i-Tree Eco surveys to try to understand more about the positive impacts they have had (or not) and what might have helped or hindered the delivery of impacts. The evaluation study included an in-depth literature and policy review, an online questionnaire and interviews. The interviews focused on some of the earliest projects as these were the most likely to have a legacy worth evaluating, namely: Swansea/The Tawe Valley and Bridgend in Wales; Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland; and Torbay and Sidmouth in England. These were completed between 2011 and 2016.

What have been the impacts on knowledge, resources and collaboration?

The study revealed that i-Tree Eco can and does help to increase knowledge and awareness, for example about the local tree population. The i-Tree Eco projects that were evaluated also helped those who were involved to better understand why urban trees are important and the benefits provided by them, such as air purification and carbon sequestration.

They were some, albeit limited, examples of skills development and new funding, suggesting there may be opportunities for leveraging new resources following an i-Tree Eco survey. However, the full potential for leverage is still to be realised.

The i-Tree Eco projects had led to new or improved collaborations, including:

  • between teams and departments within local authorities, such as climate change adaptation teams, transport departments and sustainability units; and
  • between sectors such as private businesses, the health sector, universities, schools, local environment interest groups and specific organisations such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), the Highways Agency, and Forest Research.

This increasing collaboration can contribute to further strengthening of the urban forestry sector into the future.

What has been the impact on policy and practice?

What can be said today about whether i-Tree Eco has had any impact on urban tree management plans and policies across Great Britain?

The evaluation revealed that results from the i-Tree Eco surveys had been used, or were being used, in a range of policies, plans and strategies, including:

  • local development plans,
  • supplementary planning guidance on trees and development
  • neighbourhood plans
  • green infrastructure strategies; and
  • open space strategies

Further, i-Tree Eco results were impacting on additional practices, processes and debates, for example:

  • through tree resilience forums
  • in urban forest master planning processes
  • as support for tree planting programmes
  • within council fora looking at tree services; and
  • by climate change teams in relation to climate change adaptation and targets.

This demonstrates considerable potential for i-Tree Eco surveys to feed into policy and planning processes in Great Britain.

How might i-Tree Eco studies achieve even more impact?

The study also looked at the barriers that may have limited achievement of some of the desired impacts. The barriers were related to knowledge exchange and dissemination, organisations having other priorities, insufficient resources, organisational change and staff turnover, lack of a project champion and senior level buy-in, departments not being joined up, and urban trees being viewed as a negative rather than positive asset. Thus six key lessons to enhance success of future i-Tree Eco studies are:

  • have a clear aim for the i-Tree Eco study
  • have a project champion throughout
  • know who the intended audiences are
  • tailor project outputs carefully for each respective audience
  • be realistic about the resources needed for analysis, reporting and, most importantly, targeted as well as generic dissemination; and
  • use the i-Tree Eco study report to demonstrate the value of urban trees to key social issues, such as health, and help overcome negative attitudes towards trees.

Potential i-Tree Eco project teams should also consider using the findings of this evaluation study and referring to them in future i-Tree Eco project reports. This will help to demonstrate how the urban forestry sector in Great Britain is learning from previous experiences of i-Tree Eco project teams and driving change for enhanced impact and greater resilience.

Teams considering an i-Tree Eco survey for their area should realise that impacts can take time to materialise and will not happen automatically. Given more time for results to be disseminated and utilised it may be that additional impacts will occur, particularly in relation to management and what actually happens on the ground. Overall, i-Tree Eco studies can be a valuable tool to improve the management of urban trees. Understanding how best to communicate and utilise the data and results following completion is perhaps the most important lesson for i-Tree Eco project teams.

To see the outputs from the evaluation study, including eight one-page case study impact summaries, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/itree-evaluation.

Article taken from Issue 181 of the ARB Magazine.

Article Authors: Clare Hall, Kieron Doick, Liz O’Brien and Kathryn Hand from Forest Research and Suzanne Raum for Imperial College London.