‘Negative data is good!’, Jane Barbrook, APHA

One of the key messages we give Observatree volunteers is that you don’t have to find something to make a survey worthwhile or valuable. Developing a tree health early warning system network means that we are making an opportunity to spot something out of the ordinary. The flip side of this is that, on many occasions, a survey will result in not spotting a pest or disease of significance. True, when a new quarantine pest and disease is discovered it could avert a significant plant biosecurity impact. But this doesn’t mean that any other surveillance activity is less valuable. No news is good news as they say and so reported visits that declare nothing found are really important to us! Plant health biosecurity relies on collecting lots of different data. Proof of absence of a pest is required for: proving “pest freedom” maintaining our “protected zone” status for certain pests […]

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Simulating a longhorn beetle outbreak, Ellie Barham, Botanic Gardens Conservation International

On a spring day in May 2016, Charles Lane from Fera, his son, my partner and I headed up to the Yorkshire Arboretum near York to hammer nails into trees – all with the permission of the arboretum’s director of course! These nails (pictured) were to represent bore holes (typically 10mm in diameter) and would become part of a simulated longhorn beetle outbreak site based at the arboretum. Being able to recognise the signs of a damaging pest is only half the battle. The simulated outbreak site was designed to provide a training ground for volunteers, tree health professionals and the public. As well as offering an opportunity to practise surveying trees for inconspicuous signs, it also aims to emphasize the difficult nature of such surveys which, as participants discovered, is a challenge even when you know exactly what you are looking for. This simulation was modelled on a similar […]

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Observatree past and present, Peter Crow, Observatree Project Manager

Welcome to 2017. I hope you all had a pest and disease-free holiday As we now enter our fourth year of the project I thought it would be good to reflect on what a busy and successful year 2016 was for Observatree: In February we invited and were joined by an international audience at Kew to discuss tree health early warning systems in Europe and share our experiences During February and March Observatree volunteers attended annual training to further hone their survey skills. This was complimented by mentoring events in autumn. Volunteers made the most of this event by requesting specific activities to gain more practice and learn from professionals at hand March also saw a meeting with our project monitor who represents our funding body – LIFE. It’s great news that they continue to be impressed by the progress and impact of Observatree Over the year our Pest and […]

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Tree health early warning in the UK: a celebration of Observatree, Peter Crow, Observatree Project Manager

A dark November evening in London was brightened as many of those involved in the Observatree project gathered at the Houses of Parliament for a reception to celebrate what the project has achieved over the first three years and to help look towards its future. The project team and volunteers were joined by influential guests: MPs, peers, senior members of Defra plus representatives from the forestry, environment and charity sectors. Our event was sponsored by Chris Davies, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry. We thank him for his support. But this was not like a typical parliamentary reception. We did not want floral arrangements on tables. No. Our business is pests and diseases. We took along large wooden models of Asian longhorn, Emerald ash and Bronze birch borer beetles to adorn the historic setting. And they certainly generated interest as they went […]

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2016 Observatree mentoring events, Helen Jones, Observatree Engagement Officer

During September and October, the Observatree project delivered eight mentoring events across Scotland, England and Wales for their network of tree health surveyor volunteers. Led by tree health teams from the Forestry Commission and Natural Resources Wales the events enabled volunteers to see real examples of pests and diseases in the field, practice their observation skills and spend time with tree health experts and other volunteers in a woodland setting. Focusing on the priorities Each event focused on Observatree priority pests and diseases specific to the region. At Scotney Castle (Kent) volunteers were trained to spot oriental chestnut gall wasp and chestnut blight, seeing examples of Phytophthora cinnamomi and Amphiporthe fungus on sweet chestnut. Volunteers in the North East of England saw Phytophthora austrocedri on juniper along the Pennine Way, learning how the disease has spread through the site and that some of the juniper is still quite healthy. At […]

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‘Hunting for longhorn beetles and diseased trees’, Judith Garforth, Citizen Science Administrator, Woodland Trust

Citrus Longhorn - Plant Protection Service Archive, Plant Protection Service,

Keeping your eyes peeled Observatree volunteers help to protect the UK’s trees, woods and forests from new pests and diseases by providing more eyes on the ground. The earlier tree pests and diseases are spotted and reported, the higher the chances that outbreaks can be eliminated or controlled.  At a recent Observatree volunteer mentoring event, I joined a group of volunteers taking part in a simulated longhorn beetle outbreak activity at the Yorkshire Arboretum. This had been set up by Charles Lane, Tree Health Scientist, Fera Science Ltd. Why longhorn beetles? The Observatree project focuses on a list of tree pest and diseases which are of the highest concern. Asian and citrus longhorn beetles are both Observatree priority pests that Observatree volunteers have been trained to identify and report. So far there haven’t been any known outbreaks of citrus longhorn beetle in the UK.  However the beetles have been intercepted […]

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‘Globose scale, a southern European pest of plum and peach, heading our way’, Chris Malumphy, Fera

A sticky situation in Brussels While walking near the centre of Brussels in early May I passed beneath some ornamental cherry trees. I felt tiny droplets of liquid falling on me but as it had been raining earlier I thought nothing of it. However the droplets were annoyingly sticky, as was the pavement beneath my feet. Looking up I realised that many of the smaller branches were completely encrusted with a massive population of scale insects. So, what are scale insects? They are highly specialised plant parasites related to aphids, whiteflies and psyllids. Adult females don’t look like insects at all as they lack wings and are immobile for much of their lives. This is because they are neotenic – they reach sexual maturity while in a larval state (like an axolotl). Some species weren’t even originally recognised as insects.  For example, the Romans thought that scale insects (used to […]

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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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