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Public Preferences and Willingness to Pay for Forest Disease Control in the UK

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Journal of Agricultural Economics

Published online on


Invasive pests and diseases in trees impose a range of costs on society related to reductions in timber values, impacts on recreational opportunities and effects on forest biodiversity. These costs need to be considered when assessing control options and developing public policy. We investigate the preferences and willingness to pay of the UK general public for a range of forest disease control measures using a choice experiment with a sample of 605 people. Respondents were relatively well informed about general tree disease‐related issues, such as causes and general measures to minimise the risk of disease spread. They were less knowledgeable about specific tree diseases, with Dutch elm disease and chalara ash dieback being the most well known. We find that disease control programmes in publicly‐owned forests and forests owned by charitable trusts are more likely to be supported by the public than equivalent control programmes in privately‐owned and/or commercial forests. The nature of scientific uncertainty about diseases does not affect peoples’ preferences for disease control measures significantly. Higher respondent income, greater ex‐ante knowledge about tree diseases, and more frequent visits to forests are correlated with greater willingness to support publicly‐funded tree disease control programmes in forests. Better knowledge about tree diseases also improves the clarity of respondents’ choices. We find a negative sentiment against some disease control measures, such as clear felling of a forest, and chemical or biocide spraying. We conclude that there is significant public support for part‐financing forest disease control policies in the UK, but that this is conditional on forest ownership and the type of control measures used.