Putting the Covid legacy of volunteer vacancies firmly into the shadows, we restarted our recruitment campaign, delivered by the Woodland Trust, with gusto at the end of 2021. We were hugely encouraged when we received an incredible 240 applications. Following an initial sift, just over 100 were interviewed and the majority were then invited to join the Observatree network and work alongside our experienced volunteers.

We held a number of tree health training events for our volunteers during the first part of the year and this included some on-site training to look at examples of pests and diseases. Given that many volunteers didn’t receive their training until the summer, it is amazing that the volunteer network submitted more than 4300 survey reports during 2022. There was increased reporting from across the network after the last couple of years and many of our new recruits have benefited from the support of our more experienced volunteers. It was heart-warming to meet people face-to-face once again, and in the autumn, we hosted mentoring events at the Forest Research and Fera Science research facilities. This gave our volunteers the opportunity to meet face to face with some of the scientists who support their activities and learn about the latest research findings.

Other events involved joining our friends from The Tree Council to pilot a tree health project with a small group of Tree Wardens. Tree health scientists from Forest Research provided training on a smaller number of Observatree pests and diseases for this group who then went on to lead tree health walks for the public over the summer. They reported tree pests and diseases via TreeAlert and information on healthy trees seen during their walks to The Tree Council. We will continue to work closely with The Tree Council to discuss how these walks could potentially be developed or expanded.

During 2022, we also created new Associate agreements with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Edinburgh and Kew, supporting free access to their gardens for our volunteers and sharing messages around tree health. We look forward to working with all of our existing Associates, and developing even more, in the year ahead.

At the start of 2023, Defra launched its new Plant biosecurity strategy for Great Britain (2023-2028). Four key outcomes are specified; the second of which is ‘a society that values healthy plants’. This will be achieved ‘by raising awareness of the importance of healthy plants and trees and encouraging the adoption of responsible behaviours across society’. The strategy strongly endorses plant health citizen science initiatives, and there are many references highlighting the work of Observatree. As Observatree moves into its tenth year, we will continue to work with our project partners and other groups to promote the importance of tree health and the proactive actions that everyone can take to help in protecting our woodlands for future generations.