UOW researcher studies why Melburnians emailed love letters to trees

Dr Jennifer Atchison is a researcher at the Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space and looking at human relationships with trees. Picture: Adam McLean
Dr Jennifer Atchison is a researcher at the Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space and looking at human relationships with trees. Picture: Adam McLean

A University of Wollongong researcher is delving into how urban trees make people feel and how a mass outpouring of love to trees unfolded from a maintenance project.

Jennifer Atchison is part of the Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space, and is exploring people's feelings, concerns and valuations of trees after thousands of emails - often poems or love letters - were sent to some of Melbourne's 77,000 tree population.

As part of a maintenance initiative the City of Melbourne assigned each tree an email and instead of notes from the public on the physical needs of the flora (such as watering or limb removal) the people gave their hearts to the trees.

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"Many people write short messages or greetings, they are curious about the idea of emailing a tree, they might write a short note, or even a joke," Dr Atchison said.

"People have also shared quite long and very personal letters. For these people the program seemed to provide an opening for them to write about the ways that trees reminded them of events in their lives, their experiences of change, or their hopes for the future.

"Many people write about their hopes and dreams, their desires for the future, things they are concerned about at a personal or social level."

One of the most frequently emailed tree was quite plain and in an ordinary street, but drew many letters thanking it for its "contribution to the world", like shading from the sun and inspiration to walk to work.

The researcher is unaware of this happening anywhere else in the world but said it has stimulated interest in comparative research on urban trees - especially in areas of conflict.

"I think the emails give us a really unique insight into the ways that people value trees and how significant trees are in people's lives," Dr Atchison said.

"Not everyone loves trees, and trees are also being removed in urban areas; for many reasons, trees also represent risk.

"But we need more trees, especially in our cities in order to address climate and biodiversity problems, and so as researchers we also want to understand those dimensions of people's relationships with urban trees so that urban communities can learn how to live with trees."

Analysing the emails is just one part of the research, but all will be revealed when the team's findings are presented for publication later this year.

Dr Atchison will be chatting about the research and the phenomenon around people's relationships with trees at the Wollongong Art Gallery on June 3 for a public lecture.

The free event will run from 5pm, though bookings are required through www.eventbrite.com.au

This story Researcher wants to know why people emailed love letters to trees first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.