Challenges for tree officers to enhance the provision of regulating ecosystem services from urban forests

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Abstract

Urbanisation and a changing climate are leading to more frequent and severe flood, heat and air pollution episodes in Britain's cities. Interest in nature-based solutions to these urban problems is growing, with urban forests potentially able to provide a range of regulating ecosystem services such as stormwater attenuation, heat amelioration and air purification. The extent to which these benefits are realized is largely dependent on urban forest management objectives, the availability of funding, and the understanding of ecosystem service concepts within local governments, the primary delivery agents of urban forests.

This study aims to establish the extent to which British local authorities actively manage their urban forests for regulating ecosystem services, and identify which resources local authorities most need in order to enhance provision of ecosystem services by Britain's urban forests.

Interviews were carried out with staff responsible for tree management decisions in fifteen major local authorities from across Britain, selected on the basis of their urban nature and high population density. Local authorities have a reactive approach to urban forest management, driven by human health and safety concerns and complaints about tree disservices. There is relatively little focus on ensuring provision of regulating ecosystem services, despite awareness by tree officers of the key role that urban forests can play in alleviating chronic air pollution, flood risk and urban heat anomalies. However, this is expected to become a greater focus in future provided that existing constraints – lack of understanding of ecosystem services amongst key stakeholders, limited political support, funding constraints – can be overcome.

Our findings suggest that the adoption of a proactive urban forest strategy, underpinned by quantified and valued urban forest-based ecosystem services provision data, and innovative private sector funding mechanisms, can facilitate a change to a proactive, ecosystem services approach to urban forest management.

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