IMPACT CASE STUDY
Coastal communities are at significant risk from the impacts from climate change, such as coastal erosion and flooding, so it is important that these communities are collectively involved in local actions, like tree planting, to mitigate the impacts.
The Coastal Community Growing Together (CCGT) project developed an online platform to foster this type of collective action despite social distancing measures. The platform included a mapping tool, a tree carbon calculator, a community response dashboard, and interactive educational resources. By showing the best location to plant trees, and explaining the benefits of doing so, these tools helped to raise awareness of climate change and increase community participation.
Over 800 participants were involved, including school children and citizen’s groups in Pembrokeshire, Wales. The project has promoted the uptake of local climate actions, helping to protect the environment and promote biodiversity.
Community tree planting is widely recognised as an important nature-based response to the impacts of climate change, and it is a creative approach to raising awareness of the issue. However, tree planting initiatives are often designed as one-off events, rather than considering the lifecycle of trees and the possibilities this offers for long-term community engagement with the climate and biodiversity crises. CCGT aimed to broaden the potential of tree planting initiatives by addressing the need for on-going community engagement with climate actions.
The CCGT is part of a larger project that aimed to help coastal communities adapt to climate change. To do so, researchers at UCD collaborated with local organisations to engage school children, teachers, retired people, women’s groups and councillors using an online platform. This platform enables participants to identify the best locations to plant trees through the combination of local area maps and visual media content, promoting learning about nature-based solutions.
For example, the educational resources on the platform helped communities understand the preferred conditions (soils, sunlight, etc.) for each tree species, and increased their knowledge of native trees. As a result, communities developed a better understanding of the role that trees play in local carbon sequestration (i.e., capturing and storing carbon dioxide). One participant’s feedback on the platform said: “It has inspired me to plant more trees in the garden and to consider the impact of daily activities.”
The CCGT platform changes the way tree planting initiatives engage with communities. The “Community Response Dashboard” and the “Tree Carbon Calculator” encourage much needed long-term engagement with climate action. These user-friendly tools provide real-time monitoring of the carbon sequestration and the biodiversity benefits resulting from the tree planting activity, so that users can monitor the impacts of their participation over time. Another participant said that they: “Cycle to work more often than driving. I had no idea of how social media has a carbon footprint! I will use Facebook less.”
The online platform and suite of tools developed for the CCGT project have changed the possibilities for encouraging long-term participation with local climate action. The focus on user-experience through easy-to-use interactive tools and visually engaging information about nature-based solutions encourages a deeper level of understanding of how we can tackle the climate crisis.
Over 800 people participated in the initiative, which included 12 schools and 10 community groups in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Participant groups were provided with a range of resources to help them learn about different native tree species and to choose the best sites to plant them as part of a nature-based approach to tackling climate change.
The interactive tools allow the participants to monitor and understand the real-time benefits of their tree planting for the environment, in terms that are relevant to their everyday experience. This inspires long-term engagement with climate action. For example, the community response dashboard and the tree carbon calculator compare tree planting benefits with the carbon intensity of car journeys, typical daily social media use, and the average carbon footprint of a UK Amazon purchase.
This work will also contribute to improving the mental health of pupils, students and staff.
— Nick Makin, School Business Manager, Henry Tudor School, Milford Haven, Wales
Through this project, over 1,930 native tree species were planted as part of the local community response to the effects of climate change. This equates to 383,270 kg of carbon sequestered (captured and stored) over a 10-year period. It also equates to 25 new habitats for 172 wildlife species. Ongoing efforts by the project team and stakeholders across Government aim to increase the use of this platform in other settings, so that more trees are planted, more carbon is sequestered, and more species are protected.
Many of the online tools that aim to increase citizen engagement in climate action depend on proprietary tools which incur large license fees. Similarly, many of the existing open-source tools are project-specific and also require advanced GIS and programming skills. This poses difficulties for research teams or community engagement practitioners who may lack the necessary technical expertise or finances to create bespoke tools.
The CCGT platform seeks to overcome some of the challenges for non-experts when developing their own participatory initiatives. It uses cloud-based technologies to provide online templates that are currently available to researchers within UCD. As a result, they can quickly deploy similar community engagement initiatives without the need to invest much effort and resources in the development of a new tool.
CCGT is part of a larger project, Coastal Communities Adapting Together (CCAT), which focuses scholarly attention on the use of digital tools for engaging coastal communities with climate adaptation. A journal article, outlining how the researchers moved to a digital project in response to COVID-19, was published in Ocean and Coastal Management in July 2021. In addition, a template of the CCGT platform and community response dashboard (including the environmental indicators and carbon calculator tool) will be freely available to researchers for future participatory initiatives via the UCD Earth Institute.
This is so user friendly, so interactive. This should be everywhere. I would think it is a brilliant tool for behaviour change and it's so simple. It does a really good job of relating what you can do to the complexity of the problem.
— Vicky Brown, RewriteClimate Education and Cool Planet Experience Group
“Love the real time information on the trees planted and details. That's fabulous - this is so user friendly, so interactive. This should be everywhere. I would think it is a brilliant tool for behaviour change and it's so simple. It does a really good job of relating what you can do to the complexity of the problem.”
—Vicky Brown, RewriteClimate Education and Cool Planet Experience Group
“The area the school chose is part of a wider project. This work will also contribute to improving the mental health of pupils, students and staff.”
—Nick Makin, School Business Manager, Henry Tudor School, Milford Haven, Wales
“A shame the pupils couldn’t get physically involved in the planting in the end but completely understandable given the current Covid restrictions. Tom (Bean, Pembrokeshire Coast) did a great job chatting with the children and they are very keen to get a rota set up for watering! We’ve explained that they will be in charge of watering every day. We gave them a good soaking after school today and the children will keep this up for us.”
—Gemma McKnight, School Teacher, Gelliswick CiW VC Primary School, Wales
“I’ve been around most of the schools and it's great to see the trees have established nicely - the careful planting and watering seems to have paid off. The apple tree orchard at Coastlands is a lovely space and has been enjoyed by them all while the trees have been full of blossom. One day I pulled up there and looking over I just saw the nursery class all sat around a flowery tree on the grass with their snacks and the teachers sitting off to the side on a makeshift bench... a picture of calm and contentment, not to mention a really positive engagement with the resource that you helped provide.”
—Tom Bean, Education Officer, Pembrokeshire Coast, Wales
“The children have enjoyed planting the trees and have done a lot of work in class around the project.”
—Sian Taylor, School Teacher, Pennar Community School, Wales
“By using a range of visually appealing page designs, I think this web app provides an excellent communication tool to demonstrate how even local scale actions can contribute to improving the wider environment. Through the use of text, statistical and spatial information, the web app is a platform that would be of interest to users of all age ranges, and I think provides an excellent vehicle for raising awareness of local and global climate change issues.”
—Dr James Fitton, Senior Postdoctoral Researcher, MaREI Centre, UCC
“We were delighted to be able to work with CCGT and the Portfield Recreation Committee to plant these trees. It is the stated intention of Soroptimist International to work towards combating the effects of climate change and to this end all members across the world are being encouraged to plant trees. It is SI’s centenary year, and the planting of trees is seen as a fitting and positive way to mark this anniversary. Participating in this project has enabled us to fulfil our objective this year. In time these trees will come to maturity and be enjoyed by the community. whilst also being our lasting contribution towards reversing the effects of climate change.”
—Susie Blacklaw-Jones, Soroptimist International