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Article

How Effective Are Citizen Scientists at Contributing to Government Tree Health Public Engagement and Surveillance Needs—An Analysis of the UK Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) Survey Model

1
Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, London SW7 1NE, UK
2
Forest Research, Alice Holt, Farnham GU10 4LH, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Insects 2020, 11(9), 550; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11090550
Received: 2 July 2020 / Revised: 14 August 2020 / Accepted: 17 August 2020 / Published: 19 August 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Citizen Science Approach for Expanding the Research on Insects)
The impact on tree health from insect pests and microbial diseases that have moved across country borders has been increasing in recent years. This poses a significant challenge to government authorities, and a number of countries have been examining how effective volunteers from the general public can be in supporting tree health surveillance. Our paper describes a project led by the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) in the United Kingdom which tested the extent to which the public were motivated to participate in tree health surveillance. It also examined whether ‘citizen scientists’ could provide information which would be of genuine use to officials and scientists responsible for national tree health. The results suggest that there was considerable engagement from the public, who completed over 2800 surveys covering more than 4500 trees. Nevertheless, despite designing the OPAL survey specifically for untrained individuals, the results were only partially of value to tree health specialists. The paper discusses the results and concludes that involving citizens with some existing expert knowledge is probably the most effective way to generate more reliable data. Lay citizens can contribute effectively at critical times when additional surveillance capacity is needed, provided that suitable guidance and support are given.
The incidence of tree disease has been increasing in the UK in recent years as a result of a range of alien tree pests and pathogens new to the country. In the early 2010s government staff resources to monitor, identify and eradicate these pathogens were limited, so we tested the efficacy of “citizen scientists” to support these needs. The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) is a successful citizen science programme launched in 2007, which at that time of launch involved over 650 thousand people in a range of environmental surveys. In 2012–2013, the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) and Forest Research staff worked with OPAL and its partners to launch a citizen science tree health survey in Great Britain and this was extended to cover Northern Ireland until it closed in 2019. Over 2800 surveys were completed including records on more than 4500 trees, the majority from urban areas. This paper discusses the results of the survey and their value for the assessment of tree health. It also considers the implications of engagement with the general public for the future of tree health surveillance. Recommendations are made for further development of the OPAL “model” and more generally for the role of citizen science in this important area. View Full-Text
Keywords: citizen science; tree health; pests and diseases; survey; surveillance; government policy; engagement citizen science; tree health; pests and diseases; survey; surveillance; government policy; engagement
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MDPI and ACS Style

Slawson, D.D.; Moffat, A.J. How Effective Are Citizen Scientists at Contributing to Government Tree Health Public Engagement and Surveillance Needs—An Analysis of the UK Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) Survey Model. Insects 2020, 11, 550. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11090550

AMA Style

Slawson DD, Moffat AJ. How Effective Are Citizen Scientists at Contributing to Government Tree Health Public Engagement and Surveillance Needs—An Analysis of the UK Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) Survey Model. Insects. 2020; 11(9):550. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11090550

Chicago/Turabian Style

Slawson, David D., and Andy J. Moffat 2020. "How Effective Are Citizen Scientists at Contributing to Government Tree Health Public Engagement and Surveillance Needs—An Analysis of the UK Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) Survey Model" Insects 11, no. 9: 550. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11090550

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