Resilient Urban Treescapes: Interview with Dr Bianca Ambrose-Oji

It’s now less than 3 months until Trees, People and the Built Environment 4 – our triennial conference on urban greenspace. In advance of the conference we’ll be presenting a series of interviews with some of our featured speakers. In the latest of the series, we speak with Dr Bianca Ambrose-Oji, Senior Social Scientist at Forest Research




Tell us about your presentation

The paper I am presenting this time is about how managers of urban trees understand the idea of “resilience” and how they incorporate this into their thinking and management of the urban treescape. Urban trees and woodlands obviously present a whole host of challenges to managers because of the complexity of urban ecologies and governance systems.  The research the paper reports on looked to understand resilience from the perspective of responding to tree pests and diseases.  Since the arrival of pathogens such as ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus), awareness and attitudes around the growing threat to urban trees has been shifting, but there are still many barriers to action.  The research unpicks what those are, and why the urban treescape is more often linked with the notion of liabilities rather than benefits, and how this effects resilience strategies.

Why is your presentation important for our conference?

The human and social dimensions of urban tree management are an important component of urban green infrastructure, but are often overlooked in favour of the technical and operational challenges. Sharing  “lessons learned” and other research insights into the drivers of human behaviour and the outcomes for urban treescapes, should inspire thoughts and actions about how to move forward and make a difference?

What are the biggest challenges facing green infrastructure?

There is a basket of well-rehearsed pressures on green infrastructure including those from climate change, increased incidence of pests and diseases, and increased economic development pressure, but I think there is also a real challenge from perceptions and attitudes to risk, and responses to risk.  There seems to be an imbalance in assessments made about the likely benefits of green infrastructure, against the likely risk of impact on people and how built environments function.  Green infrastructure is often afforded low value in governance because of deeply embedded individual, professional and community level attitudes to risk, as well as legal and regulatory frameworks.

What impact is your work making in the built environment?

This particular research project is contributing to a co-design process that is directly informing and developing new tree health policy options linked with “Future Farming” and the Environmental Land Management system. This includes consideration of trees and woodlands in urban and peri-urban environments.

How do we build resilient places for us to live in for the future?

I think there is no question about this, its down to social innovation and action. Even if we know how to design nature-based solutions for urban resilience, and even when we know how much these may benefit us, it’s always down to people to instigate the changes, whether that’s people taking part in national and regional governance, or local communities energising action. It’s all about building on the synergies between people and the environment.  I know that sounds like a lot of vague social science speak, but lively, diverse, engaged, learning places that connect with the multiple environmental values urban green infrastructure gives us, seem to me to move towards greater social and ecological resilience.

How did you get into your role?

I grew up in inner city Bristol.  My favourite place as a child was the zoo, and the parks and green spaces near to my home.  I developed a real attachment to nature in these spaces. When I was ready to go to university, I decided to do an environmental science and conservation degree.  At this point I realised that it was the trees I loved the most.  I was also surprised to realise that forest conservation and resilience was all about people, and how people managed the tree and woodland resource. I then specialised in the human dimension of forestry through my MSc and my PhD.  The first part of my career was spent working in tropical and dry land environments where I was able to get involved with many forest conservation projects mixing research and practice.  I started working with Forest Research when an opportunity opened up just at the time I’d decided I wanted to hang up my frequent flyer card for a more sustainable working lifestyle.

Trees, People and the Built Environment 4 will unite built and natural environment professionals from around the world who are working towards the shared goal of enhancing and developing green infrastructure. This acclaimed urban trees research conference will return to the University of Birmingham on 22-23 April 2020. It is a must-attend event for those who work in urban landscapes or the built environment.

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