Assessing and communicating animal disease risks for countryside users

Cyclists on a forest roadSummary

Many people take pleasure from activities in forests and wild lands in the UK and others are being encouraged to participate.  These inevitably incur certain risks, however, and one of the most insidious is the possibility (albeit tiny) of acquiring a disease from wild animals; for example, ticks can be vectors of the bacterial infection leading to Lyme disease. Both diagnosis and treatment can be problematic so prevention of acquiring such disease is highly desirable.

Family walking on a forest trailThis project considered ways to help those involved in the countryside to understand better how to deal with diseases such as Lyme disease, how to communicate the degree of risk effectively, and how to encourage preventative action such that the countryside continues to be a source of pleasure and well-being for its users.

Research objectives

Surprisingly little is known about how best to warn countryside users about the potential for disease without scaring them away or spoiling their enjoyment.  Answering such questions was the goal of this project, and required an interdisciplinary approach that integrated a diverse set of scientific skills including:

  • Forest ecology
  • Parasite ecology
  • Environmental and social psychology
  • Sociology and political science.

The project also required an understanding of the views of:

  • Those who manage countryside
  • Those who have contracted zoonotic diseases
  • Those who access the land.

Research activities

The work consisted of three phases:

  1. Understanding the present
  2. Identifying possible futures
  3. Actions for possible futures.

Within each of these phases, work considered scenario analysis, risk analysis and risk perception:

Flowchart showing research phases and activities

A Project Advisory Board provided specialist advice on aspects of the research, and a Practitioner Panel guided the practical implementation of the findings.

Research outputs

Final report, RELU policy note, research papers, book chapters and other publications.

Risk and uncertainty in the context of animal and zoonotic disease management workshop

Held over two days in November 2010, this workshop showcased and discussed the work of three related RELU funded projects with presentations of findings from those projects and an exploration of their relevance and potential future applications.

Workshop summary and presentations

Funders and partners

The inter-disciplinary team of researchers involved staff from Forest Research, the University of Oxford and the University of Surrey.

RELU logo
The research was conducted as part of the Research Councils' Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) Programme (Project: RES 229-25-0007). RELU is funded jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council, with additional funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department.

Forestry Commission logo University of Oxford logo University of Surrey logo
Additional funding for the project was provided by the Forestry Commission and the Universities of Oxford and Surrey.


The project commenced on the 1st September 2007 and the final report was produced in March 2011.

Contacts and further information

About the research

For further information on the project as a whole, contact:

Prof. Chris Quine

The work on risk analysis was led by Professor Sarah Randolph:

Sarah Randolph
Professor of Parasite Ecology
Department of Zoology,
University of Oxford

The work on risk perception was led by Dr Julie Barnett and Professor David Uzzell:

Dr. Julie Barnett
Reader in Healthcare Research
Department of Information Systems and Computing
Brunel University

Professor David Uzzell
Department of Psychology
University of Surrey

For information about the RELU programme in general, see

About zoonotic diseases including Lyme disease

The project team are unable to advise on specifics of Lyme disease or on any medical aspects.  Further information is available at the websites listed below.

Authorative health protection advice:

Information on other aspects of zoonotic diseases:

What's of interest

Risk and uncertainty in the context of animal and zoonotic disease management

Workshop held in November 2010.

Summary and presentations