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News Article

Why do urban trees remain undervalued?

Effective communication key for reaching communities and decision-makers

Research has shown that urban trees provide environmental, social and economic benefits. However, a recent paper argues that embedding the importance of urban trees into the mindsets of decision-makers is still wanting. The paper discusses why communication falls short between communities, their political representatives and arboriculturists, and recommends some actions that could be taken to improve the situation.

The paper was authored by Dr Andy Moffat and published in Arboricultural Journal earlier this year. In the author’s view, instead of promoting urban forestry simply through increasing the amount of advocacy, attention should be paid to the ways in which messages are being delivered to recipients. Dr Moffat asks, “To what extent has the rhetoric around urban trees underwhelmed recipients because it does not connect with them effectively and talk on their terms, rather than simply appearing to promote the arboricultural sector?” The paper reviews some of the potentially confusing messages that are currently being used to promote urban forestry. While the article focuses on arboriculture in Britain, the content is useful for people working with urban trees around the world.

To start off, the words ‘urban’ and ‘forestry’ used in tandem can be confusing. Furthermore, many may think that trees serve primarily to provide timber, while most urban tree professionals would agree that people, not trees, are the most important component of urban forestry. However, this aspect may not have been properly understood by local and national politicians. It is worthwhile to understand why urban people value the trees growing in their neighbourhoods; research has shown that the social and psychological impacts of trees are emphasised over ecological and biodiversity issues. If people form a strong sense of connection with the trees they encounter in their urban lives, they are also more likely to urge their political representatives to prioritise these trees and other green infrastructure in decision-making. 

The author also encourages advocates to be cautious when talking about the benefits of urban trees. Dr Moffat says, “It is entirely understandable that those with a love for and/or a professional interest in urban trees should seek to communicate their value as effectively as possible. But there is a danger that such factions risk overemphasising the benefits that trees can bring, and even in exaggerating them.” For example, while trees provide many ecosystem services, urban trees may also present ecosystem disservices – increasing honeydew and bird droppings in the streets, damaging pavements, and increasing maintenance costs, among other things. In addition, in their efforts to promote urban trees, advocates may overlook the fact that sometimes there are better ways to deal with urban challenges like pollution or noise than growing more trees.

There are several ways to increase public awareness of urban trees. In countries like the UK, sharing information on the internet can be very effective in reaching out beyond those already informed and enthusiastic about trees. Interactive material such as smartphone apps and podcasts, and social tree walks and cycle rides, may inspire people to get to know their local trees. Involvement from universities and professional societies alongside local authorities is desirable, and arboriculturists are recommended to engage more with those working with local policies and financial budgets.

Further information is available to subscribers on the Forest Science database. For example, using the search string (arboriculture OR “urban forestry”) AND “urban planning” returns 318 results.



Moffat AJ (2016) Communicating the benefits of urban trees: A critical review. Arboricultural Journal 38: 64-82.

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • Anu Veijalainen
  • Date
  • 07 September 2016
  • Source
  • Arboricultural Journal
  • Subject(s)
  • Arboriculture