Blog

‘Observatree digital learning – the Director’s cut’, Charles Lane, Fera Science Ltd

Learning in the modern world is much more than just about your ABC’s.  You need to understand the potential opportunity with D’s and E’s.  Training volunteers is a key part of the work of Observatree and it has been very interesting to see how this has evolved over the life of the project. Early on, it was soon realised that not everyone was available from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and that learning resources should be available to everyone at all times.  Providing teaching resources on the project website allows individuals access when convenient to them but also helps review and refresh their knowledge. Our first foray in this area was the introduction of webinars that provided a live seminar (together with recorded podcast) available on the web. Participants could dial in or listen online and hear the relevant expert talk about plant health and pests and diseases of […]

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‘Better biosecurity – it’s up to you!’, Katherine Deeks, Forestry Commission England Biosecurity Officer

We have a new member of staff here in the Forestry Commission England’s (FCE) tree health team. Becki Gawthorpe joined the team in late September as Biosecurity Officer for Arboriculture, having previously worked as an arboricultural consultant.  As Biosecurity Officer for Forestry, Becki and I will be working closely together to raise awareness of tree health and encourage the uptake of biosecure behaviours across our specific industries and amongst landowners and engaged public.  Our colleague, Emily Fensom, provided a good overview of the type of work the FCE tree health team do back in July in light of Sweet chestnut blight.  Whilst we support the work of Tree Health Officers, as Biosecurity Officers our focus is centred on the communication and extension of the importance of tree health and biosecurity – in particular, working on and delivering the Keep it Clean biosecurity campaign.   We work with a number of […]

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Observatree 2017: A project conference….and beyond, Peter Crow, Observatree Project Manager

On 14 September at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, Observatree held its 2017 project conference. This was designed to celebrate our achievements and share what we have learned over the past four years.  An international audience was invited to talk about the project and the wider role that Citizen Science can play in tree health early warning systems within Europe. Several of the Observatree team gave presentations on: project aims survey results pest and disease training how we’ve evaluated the project networks we’ve established One of the project’s volunteers, David Griffith, talked about his survey work, motivation and how he enjoys participating in Observatree. Presentations were also given by Professor Gerry Saddler, Chief Plant Health Officer for Scotland, and Professor Nicola Spence, Defra’s Chief Plant Health Officer. These outlined the importance, and further potential, of Citizen Science in monitoring tree health within the UK and beyond. This point was […]

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‘State of the World’s Plants’, Charles Lane, Fera Science Ltd

I had the pleasure of attending a ‘State of the World’s Plants’ symposium in May at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  This was a two day meeting, with nearly 200 delegates from around the world, to celebrate and explore the importance of plants to natural ecosystems, food security, natural resources and medicinal plants. Prior to the symposium a report was published focusing on: describing the world’s plants global threats to plants policies international trade The second item covered: climate change-which plants will be the winners? global land coverage change (wildfires) invasive species plant health-state of research extinction risk threats to plants The chapter focusing on plant health was authored by international experts including several of my colleagues at Fera Science Ltd.  This chapter posed the question: ‘Which pests pose the biggest threat to plants globally and where is the greatest concentration of research effort on these pests?’  It reviewed the research […]

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Oak powdery mildew – what’s all the fuss?’, Elsa Field, Oxford University

It’s one of the most common pathogens on oaks in Europe and, in late summer (July-August), it’s hard to miss oak powdery mildew on the leaves of oak trees throughout the UK. You’ll notice a whitish “powder” coating the leaves, in some cases causing them to become highly distorted. This is the fungal mycelium, the asexual part of the fungus, which grows on living leaf tissue and hungrily taps into the sugars that the plant has busily captured during photosynthesis. There is no cure for oak powdery mildew, but nurseries routinely have to spray fungicides to prevent the pathogen from stunting the growth of young trees. This tree disease is a biotrophic pathogen meaning it can only grow on living tissue so doesn’t kill the host directly. However, it will reduce its growth by coating a large proportion of the tree’s powerhouses – its leaves – with mycelia, thus preventing […]

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‘Managing Sweet Chestnut Blight in the South West’, Emily Fensom, Forestry Commission England

The Forestry Commission England’s (FC) Tree Health team plays an important role in the protection of England’s trees, woods and forests. As a Tree Health Officer, I work with a range of colleagues from FC and our partner organisations to deliver a pro-active response to any reported outbreaks and the consistent day-to-day management of established pests and diseases. The Tree Health team carries out specialist surveillance for existing threats and monitors for emerging tree health concerns during the summer months when the tree crowns can be easily observed from the air. This year, we returned from the Christmas break to investigate the new finding of a high-priority disease, Cryphonectria parasitica, in Devon. Commonly known as sweet chestnut blight (SCB), this is a particularly nasty fungus which originates from Asia but is now widespread in continental Europe. Due to the quarantine nature of this disease, we needed to work out where […]

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David Griffith, Tree Health Surveyor, goes above and beyond for tree health

David Griffith has been volunteering as a Tree Health Surveyor with the Woodland Trust since the Observatree project started in 2014. Along with over 200 other volunteers involved in the project, David is tasked with surveying woods and trees for signs of pests and diseases including Chalara dieback of ash. Any positive sightings are reported to the Forestry Commission using the Tree Alert online reporting tool. The information submitted through Tree Alert is used to build up a picture of the distribution of pests and diseases across the UK, illustrated by maps such as the interactive Chalara map hosted by Defra. In recent months, David has been a man on a mission to fill in some of the blank squares on the Chalara map in West Wales where the disease hasn’t yet been reported. David has identified ash trees infected with Chalara dieback of ash in over 20 new 10km […]

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2017 training up-skills Observatree volunteers, Suzy Sancisi-Frey, Forest Research

Despite the best efforts of Storm Doris, Observatree year four volunteer training days ran smoothly over the course of February and March.  A big ‘thank you’ goes out to volunteers who braved the weather and managed to attend these sessions.  Eleven events were held throughout England, Scotland and Wales with one left to deliver in June for Northern Ireland. Once again the National Trust provided most venues for these events.  This meant we could enjoy the beautiful surroundings of properties such as Dunham Massey (NW England), Scotney Castle (SE England) and Tredegar House (Wales). Trainers came from Forest Research, Forestry Commission England and Scotland, APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency), FERA Science Ltd and The Woodland Trust.  As with previous years, a range of topics covered: winter tree ID priority pests and diseases an outside survey activity a refresher demonstration on sampling and photography Looking at the feedback we’ve received […]

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‘Negative data is good!’, Jane Barbrook, APHA

One of the key messages we give Observatree volunteers is that you don’t have to find something to make a survey worthwhile or valuable. Developing a tree health early warning system network means that we are making an opportunity to spot something out of the ordinary. The flip side of this is that, on many occasions, a survey will result in not spotting a pest or disease of significance. True, when a new quarantine pest and disease is discovered it could avert a significant plant biosecurity impact. But this doesn’t mean that any other surveillance activity is less valuable. No news is good news as they say and so reported visits that declare nothing found are really important to us! Plant health biosecurity relies on collecting lots of different data. Proof of absence of a pest is required for: proving “pest freedom” maintaining our “protected zone” status for certain pests […]

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Simulating a longhorn beetle outbreak, Ellie Barham, Botanic Gardens Conservation International

On a spring day in May 2016, Charles Lane from Fera, his son, my partner and I headed up to the Yorkshire Arboretum near York to hammer nails into trees – all with the permission of the arboretum’s director of course! These nails (pictured) were to represent bore holes (typically 10mm in diameter) and would become part of a simulated longhorn beetle outbreak site based at the arboretum. Being able to recognise the signs of a damaging pest is only half the battle. The simulated outbreak site was designed to provide a training ground for volunteers, tree health professionals and the public. As well as offering an opportunity to practise surveying trees for inconspicuous signs, it also aims to emphasize the difficult nature of such surveys which, as participants discovered, is a challenge even when you know exactly what you are looking for. This simulation was modelled on a similar […]

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