Blog

Resilience of British woods and trees, Helen Jones, Observatree Engagement Officer

Woodland under threat It is well known that our native woodlands are under increasing threat from a wide range of factors – climate change; invasive non-native species; tree disease; and development to name but a few. In order to protect this nationally important ecosystem for future generations, the British landscape must become resilient enough to withstand these pressures and the conservation and forestry sectors need to work more closely together. Tackling the issues collectively In the spirit of collaboration, the Woodland Trust invited stakeholders from across the sector to Burroughs, Peartree  and Martinshaw Woods in the National Forest to discuss and see these threats first hand. The event brought together representatives from organisations such as the Forestry Commission; Natural England; Royal Forestry Society; RSPB; National Trust; The Deer Initiative; local Wildlife Trusts; and the James Hutton Institute; as well as local councils, private landowners and managers. Led by site managers […]

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‘Exotic lace bugs – a threat to London plane and oak’, Chris Malumphy, Fera Science Ltd

Brussels lace … and bugs One of the products that Belgium is most famous for, along with chocolate and beer, is Brussels lace. However, it is also a great place to find lace bugs as I discovered during a visit last September. What are lace bugs? They are plant feeding bugs.  Most species have an elaborate net or lace-like structure that covers the upper-body, hence the common name. This can only really be appreciated when the insect is viewed under a low power microscope. There are about 2000 species of lace bug worldwide, all assigned to the family Tingidae; the majority are host-specific (feeding on one type of plant) and a small number of species are highly destructive plant pests. Hide and seek London plane (Platanus × acerifolia) trees line the streets and fill the parks in central Brussels.  When I visited last September I could see the foliage of […]

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‘The ups and downs of Dutch elm disease’, Joan Webber, Principal Pathologist, Forest Research

Joan Webber

Getting the facts straight Despite the fact that Dutch elm disease has been known and studied for almost 100 years, myths about this tree disease are not in short supply.  For example, don’t be fooled by the word Dutch – the disease didn’t come from the Netherlands and it certainly doesn’t just affect Dutch elms (Ulmus x hollandica).  You will also frequently hear people say “there are no elms left now, they’ve all been killed by Dutch elm disease” and that isn’t true either.  In Britain, we probably have more elm trees now than we did before the current epidemic which we think started in the late 1960s.  However they tend to be relatively young elms whilst magnificent mature elms that graced much of countryside are more of a rarity. Not once but twice Although the origins of Dutch elm disease are still a matter of speculation, we do know […]

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‘A beetle in a haystack’, Kate Lewthwaite, Woodland Trust

The scene of the crime The Paddock Wood area of Kent was the UK’s first (and only to date) site to have an outbreak of Asian Longhorn Beetle (ALB) back in 2012. Although the source of the pest has never been conclusively determined, the most likely cause was larvae emerging from timber pallets commonly used as wood packaging on stone imports from China. By law, these should be heat-treated at the point of export to destroy all insect larvae, but sometimes that does not happen. The Forestry Commission has targeted communications at stone importers asking them to be vigilant. Government agencies like the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) take any outbreak incredibly seriously.

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2016 training up-skills Observatree volunteers, Suzy Sancisi-Frey, Forest Research

Firstly I would like to thank all volunteers and trainers who attended the training days and helped make them successful and enjoyable for everyone present.  We held 12 training events, with venues in all volunteer regions in the UK including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Approximately 150 volunteers attended these events and, according to preliminary feedback, the majority were satisfied or very satisfied with their training experience. Four heads are better than one There were at least four Observtree trainers present at each training event from organisations such as: Forest Research (FR) Forestry Commission England (FCE) and Scotland (FCS) Natural Resources Wales (NRW) The Woodland Trust (WT) The National Trust (NT) The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) FERA Science The Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland (DARD) This cross organisation working has been very positive as volunteers have benefitted from the range of different experiences and […]

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‘Reflections on a February tree health conference’, Kate Lewthwaite, Woodland Trust

Kate Lewthwaite

On two sunny spring days at Kew Gardens a conference with a rather sober topic took place: tree health early warning systems. In other words, how can we as a global community spot foreign tree pests and diseases of concern before they take hold in our respective countries? The conference was hosted by Observatree and the International Plant Sentinel Network, which monitors trees and plants around the world for their response to pests and diseases. It attracted some key professionals in tree health from the UK and across the world – 150 delegates in total from 20 countries including the USA, Russia and New Zealand. Threats There is a risk from a steady stream of accidental introductions of new pests and diseases, especially via imports of mature trees and shrubs from Asian trade routes. Many of the organisms of concern to us live in harmony with their host plants or […]

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‘British cedars under attack?’ Dr Ana Perez-Sierra, Forest Research

Cedars are non-native evergreen conifers that historically have been used as ornamentals in gardens and estates in Britain. More recently, cedars have been considered as an alternative forestry species particularly on drier sites in southern and eastern Britain. The main three species grown in Britain are: Lebanon cedar (from the mountains of Lebanon, south central Turkey and western Syria) Deodar cedar (from the Himalayas) Atlas cedar (from the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, in northern Morocco and northern Algeria) Cedars are generally pest and disease-free. However in the last two years Atlas cedars have been affected by severe shoot blight and defoliation. At the Tree Health Diagnostic & Advisory Service (THDAS) we identified the causal agent as the fungus Sirococcus tsugae. This was the first record of the fungus in Britain as it was previously only recorded in North America on hemlocks and Atlas and Deodar cedars. Almost at the […]

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‘New Year, new leadership’, Peter Crow, new Observatree Project Manager

Since approached to take on the role of Observatree Project Manager, I have inevitably been on a steep learning curve to understand the past, present and future direction of the project. Observatree has benefited from the previous lead of Kate Hutchinson (Forest Research). As Kate leaves for pastures new, her on-going dedication and professional approach ensures that I am left with a comprehensive ‘to do’ list. I don’t think I’ll get bored! On behalf of everyone involved with Observatree, I would like to thank Kate for her hard work and support in getting the project to where it is. As I learn more about Observatree, I am very impressed with the success of the project to date. It is clear that there is a lot of hard work being put into it, both by members of the project team and volunteers. The updated website is packed with useful information and […]

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Goodbye 2015, hello 2016! Kate Hutchinson, Observatree Project Manager

Having recently completed our second year of LIFE+ funded activity, it seems like a great time to look back at what Observatree has achieved so far together with a taster of what’s in store for 2016. Tree Health Citizen Science in action Observatree volunteers have been doing a superb job out and about across the UK undertaking tree health surveys. They recorded 4770 hours of survey activity during 2015 and a whopping 95% of them have stayed with the project. These figures illustrate their commitment to tree health. In 2015 they found a number of our priority pests and diseases, demonstrating the concept of tree health citizen science works. The most exciting finding was, of course, the second known outbreak of Oriental Chestnut Gall Wasp in the UK. Amanda, her daughter (who helped spot the disease) and the project received praise from senior levels of Defra and the Forestry Commission. […]

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‘Observatree in Northern Ireland’, Helen Jones, Observatree Engagement Officer

“Think on many a glorious scene, which graced thy hills and valleys green.” For me, William Drennan’s words from his epic poem “the Emerald Isle” evoke a vision of a beautiful, untouched landscape. Having travelled to Northern Ireland a number of times, I am still struck by the vivid colours and diverse habitats of the rugged countryside that surrounds you. I find it surprising, therefore, that Northern Ireland has the least woodland cover of all the countries within the UK, only about 6.5%. As the Engagement Officer for the Observatree project, I have started to look at woods and trees in a completely different way, scanning them for signs and symptoms of ill health. The project has also taught me to appreciate our native woodlands much more so it is worrying to think that pests and diseases could have an even greater impact on the landscape in Northern Ireland where […]

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