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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 access to information, and confidence to deal with tree and woodland related issues. This “knowledge to action gap” presents policymakers, 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 2021-2023 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 from 2022-2023 were generated through a co-design process with 22 stakeholders developing a ‘knowledge product’ – A Farmer’s Guide to Ash Dieback:

  • We found engagement with farming organisations and others in roles that engage with farmers around environmental issues through the co-design process to be a meaningful way of building a knowledge network.
  • The delivery of the guide by a farming organisation helped tailor and contextualise the content to farmers.
  • The production of seemingly ‘simple’ guidance requires extensive development time and feedback from a range of expert groups to ensure key messages encourage desired behaviours (for example, prompting farmers to act without encouraging them to fell trees unnecessarily).

Interim findings from 2021-2022 are based on 17 expert interviews, and 3 co-design workshops with 28 farmers:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. It is therefore a disease which farmers recognise and may think of as a priority.

Latest updates

A Farmer’s Guide to Ash Dieback has been produced as a result of a co-design process, drawing on evidence from 2021-22 on farmers’ knowledge needs on the topic. The guide is accompanied by an integrated video series to accommodate for different learning styles. Hardcopies are also available on request.

The guide is seen as a potential knowledge solution, and the guide development and co-design process has allowed us to build a forestry/farming tree health knowledge network and to address questions about improving knowledge exchange between forestry and farming together with key stakeholders. Ultimately, We hope that the guide is a product that farmer facing organisations can use to open and widen out discussion about tree health more generally.

For the remainder of the project, we will be focusing on evaluating the project and guide with co-design participants, other knowledge intermediaries and farmers.

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.


Funding & partners
  • leaf logo.png scaledLinking Environment And Farming
  • Logo of Exeter UniversityUniversity of Exeter
  • Fera logoFera Science
  • Funded through the Defra FPPH projects