Trees provide a home and food to birds, bees, insects and mammals. They remove carbon from the air, produce fresh oxygen and protect soil from erosion. Economically, UK woodlands and trees are worth billions of pounds both in timber production and tourism.
Observatree is a project that will establish a new UK tree health early warning system. This will use citizen science – collaborating with networks of trained volunteers to collect or analyse data.
The total project budget is £1.56 million. Fifty percent of this is a grant from Life + (the EU’s financial instrument that supports environmental policy and nature conservation projects throughout the EU). The remaining 50% of costs are provided by project partners and supporting organisations.
Our aim is to increase the early detection and verification of tree pests and diseases, helping to stop their establishment and spread across the UK.
Over recent years numbers of tree pests and diseases introduced into the UK have risen sharply. Some of these have caused widespread damage to tree species. Unless surveillance levels are increased, the introduction of further pests and diseases, as well as the spread of existing ones, could have a significant effect on our future economy, forestry industry, landscapes and biodiversity.
A 2014 Defra Tree Health Management Plan aims to reduce the number of pests and diseases coming into the country as well as deal with ones that arrive.
Observatree and Tree Alert have been created to complement this strategy. They will not prevent the introduction of tree pests and diseases but help report and identify outbreaks at the earliest opportunity. This will help Government tree health scientists and plant health teams to eradicate, or at least control and monitor, any spread.
An important lesson learned is that our chances of eradicating a new pest or disease rely on identifying the problem quickly before it has a chance to take hold. Observatree aims to help provide earlier warnings.
Observatree’s role is to assist in the early detection of specific new pests and diseases. It does not have a role in the management of any outbreak. The UK Government is responsible for coordinating this.
Government scientists and plant health officials identify the most worrying tree pests and diseases that can be actively worked on. A UK plant health risk group reviews this list and it becomes our core priorities.
If you think you have seen something suspicious then report it. For guidance on specific tree pests and diseases, visit our partner websites:
Networks of trained volunteers and Government scientists assess each report. Volunteers progress any further investigation work if needed.
Volunteers are trained to carry out tree health surveys, ensure submitted tree health reports are complete and support scientists by providing further data if necessary.
Looking at previous tree pests and diseases, it’s clear that the public have played a significant role in reporting suspected sightings. We need more eyes on the ground and all have a part of play in being more vigilant and reporting anything of concern.
Our volunteer page will highlight any recruitment needs. By signing up for Observatree updates we can keep you informed. The National Trust and Woodland Trust have volunteering opportunities for other projects.
Keep an eye out for any trees that look unhealthy if you are visiting woods and parks. If you spot something worrying then report it.
You can also help reduce the spread of pests and diseases by following our simple biosecurity tips.
We have created this checklist which will help to identify what information you will need to gather prior to submitting a Tree Alert report.
Observatree covers tree health in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Regional, trained volunteers monitor trees as citizen scientists in these areas.
Tree concerns in Northern Ireland must be reported to Forest Service and not Tree Alert. Forest Service is part of the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Call 02866 343165, email them or report via the TreeCheck phone app. TreeCheck operates across NI and the Republic of Ireland.
Observatree works with skilled volunteers who bring considerable existing knowledge and expertise to their work on tree health. We recommend the OPAL tree health survey as a good introduction for communities to examine local trees and report suspect sightings.
Visit our Resources pages. These offer a wealth of information from across the internet as well as downloadable Observatree training materials.