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Exploring public perceptions of solutions to tree diseases in the UK: Implications for policy-makers

Jepson, Paul, Arakelyan, Irina
Environmental science & policy 2017 v.76 pp. 70-77
Chalara, Fraxinus excelsior, Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, dieback, humans, issues and policy, pathogens, pests, politics, public opinion, tree breeding, tree diseases, trees, urban areas, United Kingdom
Tree diseases are on the increase in many countries and the implications of their appearance can be political, as well as ecological and economic. Preventative policy approaches to tree diseases are difficult to formulate because dispersal pathways for pest and pathogens are numerous, poorly known and likely to be beyond human management control. Genomic techniques could offer the quickest and most predictable approach to developing a disease tolerant native ash.The population of European Ash (Fraxinus Excelsior) has suffered major losses in the last decade, due to the onset of Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (previously called Chalara Fraxinea) commonly known in the UK as ash dieback. This study presents evidence on the public acceptability of tree-breed solutions to the spread of Chalara, with the main aim to provide science and policy with an up-stream ‘steer’ on the likely public acceptability of different tree breeding solutions. The findings showed that whilst there was a firm anti-GM and ‘we shouldn’t tamper with nature’ attitude among UK publics, there was an equally firm and perhaps slightly larger pragmatic attitude that GM (science and technology) should be used if there is a good reason to do so, for example if it can help protect trees from disease and help feed the world. The latter view was significantly stronger among younger age groups (Millennials), those living in urban areas and when the (GM)modified trees were destined for urban and plantation, rather than countryside settings. Overall, our findings suggest that the UK government could consider genomic solutions to tree breeding with more confidence in the future, as large and influential publics appear to be relaxed about the use of genomic techniques to increase tolerance of trees to disease.