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Miss Kate Hand

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Professional biography

I am a PhD student working on understanding and modelling the benefits we get from urban trees.

My background is in ecology, studying biology at the University of St. Andrews and completing a Masters degree in Zoology at the University of Otago, New Zealand. My Masters project assessed the level of biodiversity in urban neighbourhoods in New Zealand and explored whether children living in these neighbourhoods spend time in these areas. After my Masters I worked in environmental recording centres before beginning a role as urban forest research scientist at Forest Research. Here I led projects examining how tree characteristics affect modelled ecosystem service provision  and helped develop a citizen science project to measure urban canopy cover levels.

PhD Project: Building the evidence base for the benefits of urban trees using citizen science

Urban trees provide a range of benefits, or ecosystem services, trees in urban areas to society. However our ability to assess and understand how to maximise these benefits for UK urban areas is limited by lack of data on the urban tree resource. My project will use a range of techniques to assess various methods of measuring tree characteristics linked to ecosystem service provision. From this we hope to identify methods to support greater quantity and quality of urban tree data collection which can improve our knowledge of our urban tree resource and improve the models used to estimate and value the ecosystem service provision of individual trees.

How many leaves on an urban tree?

Leaf area is an important metric helping us to estimate the benefits which urban trees provide us with. But we don't have a lot of information on the leaf area of urban trees as it's quite a tricky thing to measure. Many methods of estimating leaf area haven't been validated for urban trees yet. This project aims to address this. I am taking using a range of methods to estimate the leaf area of urban trees, then validating these against a destructive sample of a tree. This uses a tree already planned for felling is plucked of every single one of it's leaves to calculate the total leaf area of the tree.

Check out this 4 min youtube video, produced by Stacy Phillips (@Shtacy_philips), which provides an overview of this project.

Big thank you to the Milton Keynes Park's Trust for their support in this project by helping to fell and process trees for the study. The work is also supported by UCL and Forest Research who have supplied equipment and expertise in measuring trees including hemispherical photography and terrestrial laser scanning.

This project will examine how well a ‘virtual theodolite’ can measure the height and other measures of urban trees. Some tree measures like height require specialist equipment to measure in the field, making it difficult to collect data on these features. A ‘virtual theodolite’ would allow citizen scientists to measure tree features from their computer.

Monitoring urban tree growth with citizen scientists

The Milton Keynes Tree Growth Project aims to engage citizen scientists in the monitoring of urban tree growth to help us track tree growth and understand how this varies in relation to factors such as location and species. The project is using dendrometer bands on 99 trees across Milton Keynes. Many thanks to the Parks Trust and Milton Keynes Council for allowing use of their trees in the study.

This project is funded by a NERC CENTA studentship. 


Phil Wheeler (Open University)

Kadmiel Maseyk (Open University)

Kieron Doick (Forest Research)

Research interests

  • Ecology
  • Urban forestry
  • Citizen science
  • Wildlife management

Impact and engagement

I've been involved in various public engagement and outreach activities as part of my research projects, including:

  • Radio 4 Inside Science interview where discussing why urban trees are special and how citizen science can help us learn much more about them.


  • Soapbox Science speaker 2020. Soapbox Science aims to bring science to the streets, presented by female scientists. Normally it takes place in public spaces but this year went virtual due to coronavirus. I produced a 3 min video introducing my work, followed up with a 5 minute presentation and Q&A talking about urban trees, their benefits and the tree growth citizen science project (live from my home in lockdown!)


The canopy cover Webmap of the United Kingdom’s towns and cities (2023-07-19)
Sales, Kris; Walker, Hannah; Sparrow, Kate; Handley, Phillip; Vaz Monteiro, Madalena; Hand, Kathryn L.; Buckland, Annabel; Chambers-Ostler, Alexander and Doick, Kieron J.
Arboricultural Journal ([Early Access])

Achieving impact from ecosystem assessment and valuation of urban greenspace: The case of i-Tree Eco in Great Britain (2019-10)
Raum, S.; Hand, K. L.; Hall, C.; Edwards, D. M.; O'Brien, L. and Doick, K. J.
Landscape and Urban Planning, 190, Article 103590

Restricted home ranges reduce children’s opportunities to connect to nature: demographic, environmental and parental influences (2018-02-03)
Hand, Kathryn L.; Freeman, Claire; Seddon, Philip J.; Recio, Mariano R.; Stein, Aviva and van Heezik, Yolanda
Landscape and Urban Planning, 172 (pp. 69-77)

City children’s nature knowledge and contact: it is not just about biodiversity provision (2017-09-23)
Freeman, Claire; Stein, Aviva; Hand, Kathryn and van Heezik, Yolanda
Environment and Behavior, 50(10)

Reply to Fattorini et al.: children’s selected avoidance of wild greenspace is driven by more than cultural factors (2017-08-29)
Hand, Kathryn L.; Freeman, Claire; Seddon, Philip J.; Recio, Mariano R. and van Heezik, Yolanda
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(35) (E7216-E7217)

The importance of urban gardens in supporting children's biophilia (2017-01-10)
Hand, Kathryn L.; Freeman, Claire; Seddon, Philip J.; Recio, Mariano R.; Stein, Aviva and van Heezik, Yolanda
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(2) (pp. 274-279)

A novel method for fine-scale biodiversity assessment and prediction across diverse urban landscapes reveals social deprivation-related inequalities in private, not public spaces (2016-03-28)
Hand, K. L.; Freeman, C.; Seddon, P.J.; Stein, A. and van Heezik, Y.
Landscape and Urban Planning, 151 (pp. 33-44)

Technological inroads into understanding city children's natural life-worlds (2016-01-13)
Freeman, Claire; van Heezik, Yolanda; Stein, Aviva and Hand, Kathryn
Children's Geographies, 14(2) (pp. 158-174)

Making cities more child- and nature-friendly: a child-focused study of nature connectedness in New Zealand cities (2015)
Freeman, Claire; van Heezik, Yolanda; Hand, Kathryn and Stein, Aviva
Children, Youth and Environments, 25(2) (pp. 176-207)