RGU research supports the expansion of treescapes in the UK


RESEARCHERS at Robert Gordon University are contributing to a new study to find out how we can expand the UK’s trees, hedgerows, woodlands and forests in rural and urban settings.

The researchers want to find out more about the social and ecological implications of agroforestry – which is the growing of trees alongside crop and livestock farming on the same land – in rural areas and surrounding towns and cities in the UK.

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Forests and other treescapes account for more than 13% of the UK’s land surface and capture approximately 21 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. This is an important contribution to the UK’s goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  

In order to meet the UK’s ambitious tree planting targets and simultaneously reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, current agricultural land will need to be converted into alternative land-uses.

The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) body has commissioned research to improve our understanding of treescapes in the UK, and their value to people and the planet, and has committed £14.5 million funding to support the studies.

RGU is collaborating with partners at Newcastle University, Newcastle University, Southampton University and Reading University, as part of the Future of UK Treescapes Programme, to find out about the attitudes of society to UK forests.

Researchers want to find what society wants in the future from UK forests and whether we can adapt our trees and forests to tackle climate change. They will also assess the impact of agroforestry on ecosystems and how best to engage farmers and other stakeholders in the process.

The team from RGU want to make the current scientific research on AgroForestry more accessible to a diverse range of people and is collaborating with artists and the Museum of English & Rural Life (MERL) to create visual and multi—media materials to ‘translate’ or transform scientific data.

One artist is producing creative material to visualise ecological models around heat mapping and the impact of forests on animal welfare, whilst other participatory workshops are exploring sensory methods, and transforming plant’s electrical signals to sounds.  

Dr Jennifer Clarke, anthropologist, artist, and Associate Professor in Critical and Contextual Studies at Gray’s School of Art is leading RGU’s part of the study and is holding participatory workshops to engage the public.

Dr Jennifer Clarke said: “Agroforestry, where trees are deliberately combined with agriculture on the same piece of land, is an important form of land use that can maintain food production whilst driving down carbon emissions. 

“In order to fully understand society’s attitudes to UK forests, we need to engage as wide a group of the public as possible, including farmers, landowners, and more marginalised groups in society including low-income groups, ethnic minorities and young people.

“We are collaborating with artists to create artistic works that transform the scientific knowledge into more imaginative forms. Art works and participatory practices are being developed to engage and foster discussion about treescapes in the UK at a series of workshops with different groups. The information gathered will be used to enhance future decision-making by stakeholders, including farmers and land managers and to identify opportunities to increase agroforestry.

“Our experimental research and public engagement prioritise equality, diversity and inclusivity, which underpins Robert Gordon University’s mission to lead innovative and interdisciplinary research that fosters economic and social regeneration and creates a more sustainable future for all.”

A number of artists are involved in the project including interdisciplinary artist, Naomi Mcintosh, who is based in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland. Naomi previously produced a project called ‘Lost Song’ which visually captured the data of bird song. She will use similar techniques to create engaging content to generate discussion about the UK’s treescapes.

Artist Simone Kenyon and Dr Jen Clarke, are holding a series of sensory mapping and creative workshops with the Youth Panel at the MERL to engage young people in about the UK’s treescapes.

More workshops are planned for 2024 and the culmination of the research will include public exhibitions showcased at The MERL in Reading in 2024, and The Sill in the Northumberland National Park in 2025, an associated book publication, and online archive to make agroforestry futures accessible for all. 

The research findings will be also presented at national and international conferences, bridging arts, humanities, and science.

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