Landmark global conference to discuss prevention of spread of tree pests and diseases

Chestnut gall waspMedia release published 17 February 2016

Over 150 experts from across the world will descend on the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on February 23/24 for a fully-subscribed conference to discuss tree and plant health early warning systems in an attempt to further improve our ability to prevent and detect new outbreaks of pests and diseases.

The conference is being organised by Observatree and the International Plant Sentinel Network (IPSN) in collaboration with the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation (EPPO). Attendees will learn about these two pioneering projects which combine the use of government departments, plant health scientists, botanic collections, charitable trusts and volunteers to help in the surveillance of the new pests and diseases crossing national borders.

There will also be sessions focussing on perspectives from volunteers highlighting the role of citizen science in early threat detection and identification, chaired by Dr Gabriel Hemery, Sylva Foundation; scientific presentations on individual pests and diseases and methods of surveillance, chaired by Dr. Richard Baker, Defra; implications for policy-makers and thoughts from funders, chaired by Dr. Anne-Sophie Roy, EPPO and a review of ongoing projects, chaired by Dr David Slawson, OPAL, Imperial College.

The conference will have an opening address from Nicola Spence, Defra’s Chief Plant Health officer and be closed by Lisa Smith, Defra’s Plant Health Policy Lead. Some of the highlights of the conference will include:

  • Deborah McCullough, Professor Michigan State University discussing research which has substantially advanced knowledge of native and invasive forest insect ecology, impacts and management. Recent research on Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), in particular, has contributed to understanding the population dynamics, economic and ecological impacts, and host preference of this invader.
  • Dr Alain Roques, Research Director, INRA, Orléans studies the biology, ecology and behaviour of forest insects, especially of cone and seed insects. His current focus is on the ecology and management of invasive insect species, the use of sentinel trees to detect potential future threats and pest risk analysis.  
  • Nigel Bell, Science Team Leader, AgResearch New Zealand is the New Zealand co-ordinator for the International Plant Sentinel Network (IPSN). Through his role as scientist at AgResearch, Nigel is part of the Better Border Biosecurity (B3) Consortium which is a multi-partner, cooperative science collaboration that researches ways to reduce the entry and establishment of new plant pests and diseases in New Zealand. Nigel is the Project Leader for the B3 project ‘Biosecurity risk in natural ecosystems’.

Peter Crow, Forest Research, Observatree Project Manager, said: “The threat to trees from pests and diseases is a worldwide issue and we will be hosting some of the most informed minds from across the world to discuss how we can best tackle their spread.

“We hope to come away from the conference with a better understanding of how the detection of tree pests and diseases takes place elsewhere and hopefully implement any learning to ensure our trees, woods and forests can be better protected.”

Funded by the EU’s Life programme, Observatree is a partnership project led by Forest Research, the research agency of the Forestry Commission, partners are Fera, the National Trust and the Woodland Trust. Supporting the project are APHA, Defra and Natural Resources Wales. Over the past 18 months more than 200 volunteers across the UK have been trained to verify cases of tree disease recorded via the Forestry Commission’s Tree Alert, an online reporting tool which allows anyone to report trees showing signs of ill-health.

Ellie Barham, BGCI, IPSN Coordinator, said: “Early-warning systems are a relatively new, but important, tool in the fight to protect tree species from pests and diseases, as is tackling the issue on a global scale. This conference is a unique opportunity for people to come together who are already working with, or interested in developing, such systems. Leading experts from around the world will get the opportunity to network, share experiences, discuss best practise, identify potential future collaborations and generally learn from each other.”

The IPSN is a EUPHRESCO project, funded by Defra, and coordinated by Fera and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) in collaboration with other European organisations (the Julius Kühn-Institut (Germany), the Plant Protection Services (Netherlands) and the Department for Innovation in Biological, Agro-food and Forest systems (Italy).

It is being developed to provide an early warning system for new and emerging plant pests and diseases through a network of botanic gardens, arboreta, plant protection scientists and government organisations.
For further information about the IPSN visit

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The LIFE programme is the EU’s funding instrument for the environment. The general objective of LIFE is to contribute to the implementation, updating and development of EU environmental policy and legislation by co-financing pilot or demonstration projects with European added value.


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