RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016

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120 Re-imagining tree health and plant biosecurity (2): a more-than-human approach
Affiliation Social and Cultural Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Hilary Geoghegan (University of Reading, UK)
Julie Urquhart (Imperial College London, UK)
Clive Potter (Imperial College London, UK)
Mariella Marzano (Forest Research, UK)
Chair(s) Mariella Marzano (Forest Research, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 31 August 2016, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Session abstract Trees and forests remain a source of interest for social and cultural geographers. The growing incidence of new tree pest and disease outbreaks has the potential to radically reshape woodlands and forests as well as interactions between citizens, government, industry, NGOs, and researchers. An interdisciplinary response incorporating social and cultural approaches is required to understand the complex inter-relationships between humans and non-humans. Recent thinking around concepts of the nexus and borderlands offer important launch points for re-imagining biosecure futures, yet their value remains largely unknown to funders, policymakers, and natural scientists. This session is an important shift from ‘business as usual’, reinvigorating the traditional economic, political and scientific landscape that surrounds tree health and plant biosecurity.
Linked Sessions Re-imagining tree health and plant biosecurity (1): a more-than-human approach
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Geographies of Tree Health: 3 years since Chalara
Hilary Geoghegan (University of Reading, UK)
Trees and forests remain a source of interest for social and cultural geographers. Since 2012 and the identification of Chalara dieback of ash, the growing incidence of new tree pest and disease outbreaks has begun to reshape woodlands and forests as well as interactions between citizens, government, industry, NGOs, and researchers. In this paper, the author considers the emerging geographies of tree health, paying particular attention to the social and cultural approaches required to understand the complex inter-relationships between humans and non-humans. Drawing on the author's experience of researching the field of tree health since 2012, this paper highlights the important shift taking place away from 'business as usual', towards a more dynamic social and cultural imagining of tree health.
Understanding public perceptions of tree health risks: an actor-network approach
Julie Urquhart (Imperial College London, UK)
Clive Potter (Imperial College London, UK)
John Fellenor (University of Bath, UK)
Julie Barnett (University of Bath, UK)
Outbreaks of new invasive tree pests and diseases have increased over recent years, some of which present a significant risk to tree health, plant biosecurity and ecosystem functions. These outbreaks often involve complex and sometimes contradictory interactions between attempts by governments to manage them, media coverage and the diverse risk perceptions of stakeholders and publics. In this paper we draw on insights from actor-network-theory to guide our methodological approach to understanding expert and public risk concerns around three tree pest and disease outbreaks in the UK: ash dieback, oak processionary moth and Phytophthora ramorum. We argue that the 'risk' of tree pests and diseases does not exist in an objective sense that can be measured, but is constantly being produced (and reproduced) through the associations between people and nonhumans in actor-networks. Thus, tree pest and disease outbreaks can be conceptualized as part of assemblages of actors (publics, policy makers, biological organisms etc.), enactments (policy, regulation, performance etc.) and materialities (places). We draw on work currently being undertaken as part of the UK's Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative Phase 2 project UNPICK (Understanding public risk in relation to tree health) which includes exploring the personal and professional encounters that people have with pests and diseases in particular locales. We focus on the intersections and translations that occur through those encounters to understand how problems like tree diseases are constituted, risks understood and management approaches assembled.
Re-imagining wild futures: on rewilding and the governance of disturbance regimes
Filipa Soares (University of Oxford, UK)
In the context of forest ecology and conservation management, disturbance regimes have been perceived as a threat to the 'balance of nature' and to economically valuable agricultural systems. To manage (potential) risks, great and successful efforts have been made to control and domesticate them. However, new ideas of 'non-equilibrium' ecology have brought about a reconsideration of disturbances' importance, highlighting their necessary and generative potential for maintaining ecological function, heterogeneity, and resilience. Such ideas precede but resonate with current enthusiasms for rewilding. This proactive and experimental approach to conservation aims to develop self-sustaining ecosystems, by re-instigating key ecological processes, loosening human intervention, and embracing dynamic, non-linear, and lively ecological trajectories. The shifts it proposes to the prevalent modes of forest management, such as conservation and biosecurity, have raised important conceptual, epistemological and governance tensions, namely due to its unpredictable and unknown outcomes. This presentation will explore some of these tensions, drawing from a research on the political ecologies of governing disturbance regimes in UK forests. Focused on three case studies - New Forest (Hampshire), Trees for Life (Scotland) and Knepp Estate (West Sussex), it analyses the conflicting social, economic and cultural values associated with working with ecological processes, and the challenges of governing uncertain and (un)desirable futures.
Non-human agency as an alternative framing for tree health
Alison Dyke (University of York, UK)
Annemarieke de Bruin (University of York, UK)
This paper analyses current framings of new species as pests and diseases of trees and drawing on debates around non-human agency and securitisation, proposes an alternative framing. Trees are valued in multiple different ways and considered worthy of protection. New species arriving in the UK through human agency or natural processes interact with trees, but these interactions are often viewed as harmful and negative, and new species are framed as pests and diseases, alien or threats. The language of conflict that is used to address this issue allows extreme measures to be taken. When a 'threat' is discovered there are three main strategies for action: prevention, eradication or control. Current framing of new species as threats is no-longer fit for purpose as the volume of new species increases and resources available for action are inadequate. While introductions of new species have occurred throughout time, the vulnerability of trees to new species has increased due to the type of landscape that we have. The current framing expects that the landscape in its current form should be defended and maintained without considering its dynamic and evolving nature, in particular, it does not consider the interaction between new species and host. We propose an alternative framing of tree health which recognises the agency of both trees and new species in determining how their interaction becomes established and most importantly considers new species as neutral and having equal value with the trees they will potentially interact with.
Hearing non-humans in forest health policy: methods or madness?
Norman Dandy (The Plunkett Foundation, UK)
Emily Porth (University of Surrey, UK)
Forest health policy and practice have enormous implications for non-humans – but they have virtually no voice in them. At most, non-humans may possess some biological or cultural trait perceived as valuable by humans who are willing and able to act as a proxy representative. Building on work done to explore the legitimacy of 'stake' as a concept via which to begin to express a non-human view of forest health, this paper will draw on the strong normative imperative often associated with stakeholder analysis and investigate the potential for bringing a non-human view into policy processes. Are there established methods (e.g. transrational knowing; radical transactiveness) available to achieve this, or is the notion of getting more-than-human perspectives heard within economically-dominated anthropocentric regulatory and policy processes simply madness?