Monday, October 13, 2008

Chainsaw massacre and the need for speed

This feature from yesterday's Observer on Britain's trees is worth a look. It's particularly good on the benefits and threats to urban trees, which was all new to me. When it looks at woodland, and efforts to restore it, I found myself wishing for a lot less Felix Dennis (flying over his woodland in his helicopter, talking nonsense on climate change) and a lot more (any) Oliver Rackham.

There's a sentence about how the Woodland Trust has found itself outbid when trying to buy land in southeast England that made me think of a recent Ecology Letters paper on how to work out when to buy land, weighing uncertainty of it's conservation against the need to buy it before someone else does.

Eve McDonald-Madden of the University of Queensland and her colleagues use a modelling technique called stochastic dynamic programming – often applied to animal foraging behaviour – which predicts what you should do at any given time, given what’s already happened. They come up with an optimal method for decision making, and a simpler rule of thumb which uses current knowledge of the sites conservation value, and the deadline on a decision, to give a deal-or-no-deal answer.

I guess this might not be so applicable in the UK, where pretty much everything is already surveyed, so conservation value is well known and budgets and land prices are the main issue. But perhaps it might help in prioritizing. And I thought it was a neat paper in general.

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