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Building knowledge networks to connect farmers with tree health issues

Home research Building knowledge networks to connect farmers with tree health issues

Even though many land managers are aware that Britain’s trees are under threat from an increasing incidence of pests and diseases, they often state they do not fully understand how they can respond to prevent or treat pest and disease outbreaks, or take action to improve general tree health. This is particularly true amongst farmers who have less information, knowledge and confidence to deal with tree and woodland related issues. This “knowledge to action gap” presents policy makers, scientists and other stakeholders with significant challenges in their information and knowledge translation for different groups of land managers. This research project focuses on co-designing and testing products and networks with farmers, and farmer facing organisations, to try and overcome some of these challenges and barriers to action.

Research objectives

The research objectives for the current phase of the project 2021-2024 are:

  • To identify solutions for improving knowledge translation, dissemination and uptake practice that will overcome the main barriers to action on tree health
  • To identify key organisations and knowledge intermediaries likely to have the most impact leveraging these changes
  • To assess whether a co-design process involving stakeholders and end users in the knowledge network, can help to design interventions that are more effective in promoting action on tree health
  • To examine how end-user engagement with research processes be facilitated to enhance learning and action around desired behaviours

The research objectives for the scoping phase of this project 2020-2021 were:

  • To improve understanding of the knowledge needs of land managers with different objectives and different levels of engagement with the woodland and forestry sector
  • To map out knowledge networks related to specific tree pests and diseases and identify organisations able to influence other organisations and land managers within those networks
  • To identify barriers and challenges to the flow of information and knowledge within networks that have the potential to close the knowledge to action gap

Findings and Recommendations

Interim findings in the current phase of the project were generated through 17 expert interviews, and 3 co-design workshops with 28 farmers.  Findings were:

  • Start the conversation about tree health issues by focusing on a tree disease that farmers recognise and may think of as a priority, e.g., ash dieback.
  • Farmers rely heavily on their peers and on personal contacts when making decisions on tree management. In order to reach farmers it is therefore important to engage with gatekeepers such as influential farmers, or with trusted farmer facing organisations.
  • Farmers with woodland tend to be more exposed to forestry-related information and are therefore more likely able to access information on tree health.
  • The main knowledge issue for farmers was assessing at which point an infected tree needs to be managed/felled, and the risks and costs associated with that
  • Knowledge products on tree health issues for farmers will need to incorporate a range of media to accommodate for different learning styles. The information needs to be short and concise, specific to farmers, easy to access and properly signposted.

Findings from 10 interviews conducted in the scoping phase 2020-2021 were:

  • One-way dissemination of information on tree health is not effective. The research demonstrated that knowledge is built and translated into action through complex networks of interactions and relationships. Therefore, building of knowledge networks and systems is a more relevant way to begin to theorise and understand the complex factors at play in the plant/tree health knowledge economy.
  • Potential solutions include: Focusing on perceptions of relevance and salience around tree health issues, identifying target audiences and key desired behaviours, developing information, guidance and other knowledge products suited to context and socio-cultural norms of non-traditional audiences, and involving target audiences in the generation of knowledge and the demonstration of action.
  • Based on the pilot study we chose to focus on farmers and ash dieback as a case study. This is because farmers present a particular challenge to tree health policy. Farmers have trees in many locations across their farms, but tree health information rarely reaches those farmers. We also decided to focus on ash dieback as this is a disease that affects trees in a range of locations across farms, and poses new challenges to farmers.

Latest updates

Action Research is ongoing developing an Ash Dieback Guide for Farmers with a series of short complimentary videos. These describe why farmers should manage ash dieback and potential approaches they could take depending on where the ash trees are, and what condition they are in.

The Guide and videos are likely to be launched in January 2023 after review and testing with farmers involved in the co-design process.

Further work through 2023 will be looking at how to build a knowledge network amongst farmer facing organisations that can use the Guide as a product to open and widen out discussion about tree health more generally.

Our Involvement

FR is leading this research project “Overcoming the Knowledge to Action Gap for Tree Health” which is funded by Defra’s Future Proofing Plant Health Programme.  Partners in this work are Linking Environment and Farming, University of Exeter and Fera Science Ltd.


Research Status
Principal Social Scientist
Forestry Staff Bianca Ambrose Oji.509e510b.fill 600x600 1
Social Scientist
Forestry Staff Berglind.2e16d0ba.fill 600x600 1
Funding & partners
  • leaf logo.png scaledLinking Environment And Farming
  • exetelogoUniversity of Exeter
  • feraFera Science
  • Funded through the Defra FPPH projects