Blog

‘Can you help us to understand the distribution of Gypsy Moth in Britain?’, Dr Max Blake, Forest Research

In the early 1900’s, the large, rather conspicuous gypsy moth was lost from the British list of breeding insects. A specialist feeding on bog-myrtle and creeping willow, it became extinct when the fens of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk were drained. However, 90 years later the gypsy moth was back when the European race was found breeding in a small area of northeast London. Though now widespread throughout much of London, the moth is found patchily throughout a wide area southeast from an imaginary line through Bournemouth, Reading and Luton, and finally to Southend-on-Sea. Despite being large and colourful, gypsy moth larvae can be surprisingly hard to find, and as such we are almost certainly under recording this species and so we are now looking for your help to better understand its distribution. The European race is somewhat different to the original British form, being slightly smaller, but considerably more voracious, feeding […]

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‘Palmageddon’ heading our way – Chris Malumphy, Fera Science Ltd

Anybody visiting tourist resorts in the Mediterranean today will likely encounter large numbers of dying and dead palms. What is the reason for this ‘palmageddon’ in the Mediterranean? The culprit is a large Asian beetle called the red palm weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus) – the most important pest in the World of date palm, coconut and certain ornamental species. Their larvae develop inside the main trunk, hollowing it out and eventually killing the plant. It is difficult to detect the larvae protected inside the trunk and by the time the palm is showing symptoms, it is usually too late to save the plant. Dying date palm Red palm weevil on adult hand I first encountered the beetle while on a family holiday in Greece, where my children delighted in capturing attractive beetles that were active in the warm evenings. The adults are large, about 35 mm long and 10 mm wide, […]

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‘Volunteers to help survey historic trees’, Christopher Weddell, English Heritage

English Heritage are delighted to collaborate with Observatree, to allow Tree Health Surveyors access to English Heritage sites in support of the early warning system for tree health issues in England. We are acutely aware of the risk of significant tree pests and diseases affecting the UK and Europe therefore this collaboration can boost the work of our Regional Landscape Mangers, Garden Teams and contracted tree inspectors as we recognise that an outbreak at or close to an English Heritage site could have a significant impact for the conservation of the site and the enjoyment and engagement of visitors. English Heritage cares for the National Heritage Collection of more than 400 state-owned historic sites and monuments, spanning six millennia – from world-famous prehistoric sites to grand medieval castles, from Roman forts on the edges of the empire to a Cold War bunker. Through these, we bring the story of England […]

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‘Along the wayside’, Katie Blain, Forestry Commission England

Pine processionary moth (PPM) caterpillars present a similar concern as their Oak counterparts. They can weaken trees by defoliation and pose a hazard to public health. Pine can suffer from a range of pathogens that exist in the UK; PPM is not currently known to be present, but it has been extending its range across Europe towards the English Channel. As Jane Barbrook from APHA said in a previous blog; negative data is good! If you are out and about surveying, or just enjoying a walk, look around and report any stands of pine trees which are free of PPM to Observatree . The Forestry Commission can use these reports to declare our pest free status and, by keeping an eye out, PPM may be spotted at low populations so that our colleagues at Forest Research can be made aware of it via Tree Alert. Being passionate about trees and […]

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‘Out with the old and in with the new: Welcome to Observatree (phase two)’, Peter Crow, Observatree Project Manager

What a busy year 2017 was for the Observatree team! Last year we produced more educational resources, ran successful media campaigns, trained stakeholders and volunteers across the county, attended events, held a volunteer celebration event and hosted a conference. Phew!! Our volunteers continued to produce high quality tree health reports and win awards along the way (congratulations David). To date, volunteers have submitted over 3000 reports and they continue to play active roles in supporting tree health scientists and inspectors in many ways. As I write this blog (Jan 2018), I am also finishing a report for our LIFE funder on everything  the project has achieved over the last four years. Examples of resources we’ve produced and evidence of activities all need to be included. Whilst I’m not surprised by the large quantity of supporting material being submitted with the report, it is nonetheless an impressive testament to a lot […]

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‘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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