Project Leader

Jessica Lye, cesar

Dr Helen McGregor, Redefining Agriculture



Executive SummaryDownload full report

The concepts of ‘urban greening’ and ‘urban rewilding’ are becoming increasingly normalised in high-density urban areas, such as Australia’s capital cities. The growing popularity of urban greening approaches has been supported by the growing need to find solutions for heat effects, storm water runoff, declining air quality, energy use, threats to food security, and maintaining social cohesion in rapidly expanding and diversifying societies (Oberndorfer et al. 2007; Pataki et al, 2011; Cao et al. 2014; Grebitus et al. 2020). In line with evolution of how many urban residents perceive local food production, green infrastructure and the potential for greater plant health stewardship in urban environments, is a growing pressure on the Australian plant biosecurity system. This is driven by increasing pathway risk, limited expansion of state and federal government resources, and changing international distributions of pests and disease (Srinivasan and Simpson, 2014; Paini et al. 2016; Craik et al. 2017; Inspector General of Biosecurity, 2018; Inspector General of Biosecurity, 2019; Inspector General of Biosecurity, 2020).

Exotic plant pest transmission pathways are often closely associated with the movement of people or products (Paini et al. 2016; Weeks et al. 2020; Inspector General of Biosecurity, 2020). High volume people and product movement from airports and seaports increase risks to nearby amenity, natural and production areas. Major Ports of Entry are associated with high density residential urban areas and arterials that provide direct routes from primary production regions to the port or urban centre and from ports to interim warehouses and distribution depots, while in waiting to be transported further afield. Major cities, such as Melbourne, are surrounded by high-value peri-urban agricultural food bowls (Carey et al. 2019) that stand to significantly benefit from plant health protection activities undertaken in adjacent urban environments. This makes urban and peri-urban regions particularly important zones for plant biosecurity engagement and plant health stewardship activities.

Concerns relating to growing disconnectedness between urban residents, food production, and plant biosecurity have been noted by the Australian government and associated organisations (Beale et al. 2008; Srinivasan and Simpson, 2014). However, correlation between lack of primary production knowledge and attitudes towards biosecurity is not well characterised. Importantly, shifting mindsets and ideals relating to the importance of plant health stewardship and, more broadly, access to green spaces and local grown products is increasingly being supported by community-led action and local policy setting. This green direction shift is likely to have substantial implications relating to plant health attitude and knowledge, and present important opportunities for supporting greater plant biosecurity engagement at a local level in urban environments.

In Urban plant biosecurity: Using a foundational approach to understand emerging risks, support resilient cities and safeguard rural industry we suggest a divergence from traditional approaches towards building biosecurity compliance and engagement, which rely on a top-down knowledge transfer approach. We outline a more sophisticated approach towards improving plant biosecurity outcomes in urban environments, that takes into consideration changing land use and socio-demographic value drivers in line with the growing popularity of urban greening and urban agriculture. We demonstrate how geospatial mapping of urban land use, key organisations, grey communication networks and planning frameworks, such as local policies and local support structures, can aid in identifying locations and communities where there are the greatest opportunities for supporting plant health outcomes in urban environments, and thus safeguarding adjacent high-value production areas. This report also fills an important information gap in relation to characterising urban resident attitudes towards biosecurity and willingness to report suspect exotic pests.

This work integrated a number of discipline areas, including social research, geospatial analysis, and community engagement, in a novel application framework to support development of targeted, local-level community-based engagement strategies in urban environments. The study has yielded the following key findings and insights in relation to attitude, engagement and motivations:

  • Those engaged in primary production tend to have greater biosecurity and land management knowledge than non-farming community counterparts in peri-urban regions. However, based on the available literature willingness to improve land management practices among non-farming community members appears to be high and assumptions made about peri-urban lifestyle landholders and biosecurity risk do not appear to be made on a strong foundation of evidence.
  • The use of informal (grey) networks is a key aspect of for building biosecurity awareness and capability among non-farming urban and peri-urban residents. These networks include local knowledge brokers, special interest group information platforms, and peers.
  • Social capital is an indicator of community resilience and community ability to recover after upheaval (such as a biosecurity incursion). Directing engagement strategies towards strengthening of social capital among community groups will support improved plant health outcomes. Geospatial mapping and demographic analysis can be used to identify communities of high or low social capital.
  • Across the entire dataset survey dataset of urban and rural residents (n = 456), the response average was between ‘unsure’ and ‘likely’, which indicates there is scope to increase overall willingness of residents to report. However, willingness to report a suspect exotic pest was in the majority, with 64% of survey respondents indicating they were likely or highly likely to report a suspect exotic plant pest.
  • Likelihood of reporting a suspect exotic pest was not found to significantly differ based on current residential location (rural or urban) and setting of upbringing (rural or urban) and there is high alignment between rural and urban residents in relation to motivations that would drive reporting. Among ‘high likelihood’ exotic pest reporters, key motivators were moral duty, environmental protection, agricultural protection, and general awareness of risk.
  • A lack of knowledge and confidence among potential reporters is potentially a major limiting factor in improving plant health outcomes in urban and rural environments. This barrier is unlikely to be appropriately addressed through traditional biosecurity outreach approaches that place an emphasis on providing direct information about priority pests. Rather, a more holistic process of building community social capital (strengthening informal networks) and empowering individuals and groups to become more familiar with their seasonal garden ecology will support longer-term positive outcomes.

In this report we also demonstrate that integration of geospatial mapping analysis into engagement planning affords an opportunity to take biosecurity engagement strategy to a more sophisticated level as it offers a method of conducting granular analysis of urban demographics and environments in order to direct strategic building and utilisation of social capital at a local or regional level.  Overall, the report highlights that significant opportunities exist to use the described geospatial analysis and social research approach to investigate and pilot building of community level social capital among urban communities to improve biosecurity outcomes – an need that has also been highlighted by other studies in recent years (Klepeis and Gill, 2016; Sinclair et al. 2020).

Urban residents represent a potentially powerful pool of interested individuals if plant health training and engagement is offered in line with major motivators and values, and with a view to building community level social capital. This study highlights the importance of building confidence and knowledge among community members and taking an approach that supports potential exotic plant pest reporters in achieving a greater understanding of their garden ecosystem. As one proof of concept activity, the outreach component of this project, which was designed with a basis in our social research findings, was successful in increasing the confidence of participants based on feedback.

In future, biosecurity engagement should go beyond basic biosecurity awareness activities and should investigate activities that will build social capital within communities. An important factor in building social capital is fostering collaborations between groups and facilitating strengthened communication throughout horizontal (grey) networks.

Finally, biosecurity engagement in urban environments must be undertaken with consideration of the wider urban planning context. Continued strengthening of grassroots and policy supported urban greening directions at a local level will pose new opportunities for improving community plant health knowledge and stewardship, and strengthening of trusted plant health learning networks. Biosecurity organisations and affiliated groups may capitalise on a changing local context through targeted, data driven, pre-emptive engagement.