Monitoring the health of a nation’s trees – looking for insect pests and microbial diseases – is problematic for government agencies in the UK, and in other countries, because of the enormity of the task.
Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) has led a project to assess how motivated the public are to participate in tree health surveillance, and to examine how successfully citizen scientists can help UK government agency officials and scientists involved with surveying tree health.
The results have been published in a scientific article entitled: 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.
They found that there was considerable engagement from the public, who completed over 2,800 surveys covering more than 4,500 trees. However, despite designing the OPAL survey specifically for untrained individuals, the results were only partially of value to tree health specialists.
The article 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.