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Students for Trees blog post My time working with trees

Writer: Hazel Mooney, Research Assistant, United Bank of Carbon

In the last 18 months, I've become a professional tree hugger! In the summer of 2018, I was successful in gaining a summer research placement with the United Bank of Carbon (UBoC), working on a project to survey trees across the city of Leeds, to explore some of the ecosystem services that those trees are providing. The idea of ecosystem services was presented in 2005 in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Ecosystem services are the benefits provided by natural environments to people, these can be regulating, provisioning, cultural or supporting. There is an abundance of research demonstrating the wide range of benefits that trees provide to people and planet including the regulating services of climate change mitigation, removal of air pollution, and provision of natural flood management. Studies have also found trees to contribute significantly to culture and human wellbeing. 

During my time with UBoC, we carried out a project across the University of Leeds campus, using i-Tree Eco to calculate the regulating ecosystem services provided by trees in Leeds. These services can be valued, using natural capital valuation methods, which place an economic value on the flow of ecosystem services to society. At the end of my placement, I wanted to explore this further, and assess how those most affected by the trees (i.e. the local population) perceive natural capital valuation methods. For my undergraduate dissertation, I combined i-Tree Eco with a second survey method, CAVAT (Capital Asset Valuation of Amenity Trees) to compare the value of regulating ecosystem services to the value of cultural ecosystem services. The key aim was to identify whether the survey methods successfully captured the value of trees as perceived by the public. 

My results showed cultural services provided by the trees to be valued substantially higher than the regulating services, with the public perceiving the aesthetic and cultural contribution of trees to be most important, emphasising the importance of greenspace. The results also found the public to place an economic value on trees that was far greater than the values estimated using i-Tree Eco and CAVAT. Can we truly capture the intrinsic value of nature? How do we raise the profile of the environmental benefits?

Now that I have finished my undergraduate degree in environmental science, I have returned to work with UBoC to carry out more local tree research. We are currently looking at how we can plant trees to meet climate change mitigation targets in line with the Committee on Climate Change's targets, and also the development of Green Infrastructure, for more sustainable developments in and around our cities. 

Trees are more than just beautiful, more than just green space. They have the incredible power to help us alleviate many of the environmental pressures we experience in the UK, and across the world. If you would like to help spread the message and ensure our precious trees are not only protected, but that we sustainably plant more, then get involved with Students for Trees.