The first national lockdown in 2020 prevented the annual face to face training events for Observatree volunteers from taking place. As an alternative, a valuable series of technical webinars on pests and diseases, delivered by staff from across the Observatree partnership, were held instead. Following these sessions, some volunteers suggested that it would be good to meet over Zoom for informal discussions.

Consequently, since late spring 2020, a number of Observatree volunteers have been meeting on Zoom every week. It started with the intention of providing mutual support during lockdown, and to provide an informal forum in which to discuss volunteering with Observatree and our surveillance activities.

Since the meetings started, they have developed into a lively weekly discussion covering a wide variety of topics.

These include:

  • Comparing notes regarding what is visible and when, such as floral development across the UK, or the first signs of horse chestnut leaf miner in different areas.
  • Sharing photographs of interesting trees, interesting locations, or signs of pests/diseases. Examples of photographs shown during these meetings are displayed in this article.
  • Sharing advice on how to best to file Observatree reports, and when to send a report to TreeAlert.
  • Supporting each other, especially our new volunteers, providing them with tips about how to get started.
  • Sharing information about educational resources, and forthcoming webinars of interest, or webinars already available online.


There has been a wealth of ideas and information exchanged. In the early days we spent a significant amount time refining our skills using the Zoom platform. As people logged in, we guided each other around the facilities available, for example, to show the correct names, turn features on and off, and especially the option to share screen. Screen sharing has been used to great effect, allowing us to show photographs of pests and diseases while describing the symptoms, surrounding environment and holding discussion about possible causes.

Attendance at these meetings is generally between 7 and 12 individuals on each occasion. Although there is a group who attend regularly, many others will join as and when they are able. All are welcome, and we hope that we make everyone feel welcome. There are some regulars with good knowledge of trees and associated pests and diseases, while others somewhat new to the field, ask wonderful questions which have tested our knowledge and kept everyone thinking. Any tree health questions that cannot be answered by attendees can be put to the scientists who work on the Observatree project and fed back during a later Zoom meeting. These meetings are for all volunteers, whatever their level of knowledge and expertise. We all can, and do, learn from each other. Not everyone wants to contribute and one or two just listen to the conversation and find this level of participation useful.

Zoom meetings do not suit everyone, but those of us who are regular attendees have found these sessions to be helpful, supportive, and fun.

The meetings have evolved over the past few months, from a rather tentative start, and now function far more effectively. Any Observatree volunteer is welcome.