Urquhart, Julie, Clive Potter, Julie Barnett, John Fellenor, John Mumford, & Christopher P. Quine (2019). Using Q methodology to explore Risk perception and public concern about tree pests and diseases: The case of ash dieback. Forests, 10, art. 761. (Open Access) (doi: 10.3390/f10090761) (Link: https://doi.org/10.3390/f10090761)

Abstract: This paper seeks to address the need for a more nuanced understanding of public perceptions of risk-related events by investigating the nature of and drivers for a ‘concerned public’ to an environmental issue, using the case study of the ash dieback outbreak in the UK. Q methodology, an approach that combines both quantitative and qualitative data through factor analysis to identify different ways of thinking about a particular issue, was used to investigate the subjective response of local publics to ash dieback in East Kent, England, one of the early outbreak locations. Five narratives are identified, distinguishing perceptions of risk and management preferences: (1) call for better biosecurity; (2) resilient nature and techno-scientific solutions; (3) fatalistic; (4) disinterested; and (5) pro-active citizens. Four narratives demonstrated concern about the impacts of ash dieback on woodland ecosystems, but beliefs about whether the disease arrived in the UK on infected imported nursery stock or on windblown spores varied. The results of this study contribute to improving understanding of the drivers of differing public perceptions of tree health risks, an important consideration for designing socially acceptable strategies for managing tree pests and diseases, and other environmental risks, in the future.

Julie Urquhart <jurquhart1@glos.ac.uk> is with the Centre for Environmental Policy, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Imperial College London, and the Countryside & Community Research Institute, University of Gloucestershire, Francis Close Hall Campus, Cheltenham, UK.