‘I’d like to report a suspicious looking tree’: Public concern, public attention and the nature of reporting about ash dieback in the United Kingdom

Lindsay Fellenor, Julia Barnett, Clive Potter, Julie Urquhart, John Mumford, Chris Quine, Susanne Raum

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‘Public concern’, a ubiquitous notion used in descriptive and explanatory modes by policy makers, academics and the media, is often presented as axiomatic. However, the variability with which it is deployed in different contexts, for example, as justification for policy attention or having equivalence with what is considered ‘newsworthy’, belies this status. This article presents an empirical analysis of emails and phone calls from
the UK public to UK government agencies, reporting suspected cases of ash dieback disease – a tree health issue which attracted intense media and policy attention in the United Kingdom in 2012. We challenge the view that public attentiveness is necessarily indicative of public concern, or that media attention can be taken as its proxy. Examination of concern at macro and micro levels reveals heterogeneous processes with multiple dimensions. Understanding the nature of public concern is crucial in enabling more effective policy development and operational responses to risk-related issues.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPublic Understanding of Science
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2018


  • helplines
  • public concern
  • publics
  • risk
  • tree health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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