Dr Jennifer Atchison, Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space, Faculty of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities

Insights on human-tree relationships and urban forest governance from the Melbourne email-a-tree initiative

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  • Wollongong Campus
    Building 29 Room G09
  • Contact Detailsassh-events@uow.edu.au


In this presentation I report on recent work from a collaborative research project between the University of Wollongong, the University of Melbourne and the City of Melbourne based on the ‘email-a-tree’ initiative. This initiative was intended to allow members of the public to email if a tree was in need of maintenance, making the City’s management of the urban forest more efficient. Instead, people have been emailing Melbourne’s trees with all kinds of comments or questions, and in some cases love letters, garnering attention in media and policy circles. Using mixed-methods (qualitative coding, sentiment (VADER) and statistical (bivariate and spatial) analysis, we have been examining the potential of these emails for understanding human-tree relationships and urban forest governance. Setting aside concerns about whether feelings for nature are sensible, I discuss how people express feelings for urban trees and why this matters. The concepts of conviviality, lament, and gratitude anchor insights into multispecies living and experiences of ecological loss. Sentiment for urban trees is generally positive, but the connections and concerns that people have chosen to express are for a limited range of trees and tree types, and mediated by the Melbourne Forest Visual. This research sheds light on how people value and care for urban trees, including how attachments are fostered and can be maintained. It also provides critical insights into how meaningful public participation in urban forest governance is facilitated, in this initiative and beyond. 


Dr Jennifer Atchison lives and works in Dharawal Yuin Country. She is Associate Professor in the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, University of Wollongong, and Australian Research Council Future Fellow. Her research seeks to understand the place of plants in past, present and future lives; she has written about archaeobotany in Australia, agriculture and climate change, and invasive plant management. She has had the privilege of learning about people, plants, and environmental change in Gadjerong Country in the east Kimberley, and in Yuin Country on the east coast.