Pioneering tree health partnership to continue thanks to funding boost

Media release published 27 November 2017

An award-winning partnership which has identified 1,046 cases of tree pest and disease across the UK is set to continue.

Observatree launched in spring 2015 aiming to train volunteers to help protect the UK’s trees, woods and forests from harmful pests and diseases, both existing and new.

So far, 235 volunteers have been trained by the collaboration led by Forest Research, supported by the Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission England, Defra, Fera Science Ltd, the Animal & Plant Health Agency, the National Trust, Natural Resources Wales and Forestry Commission Scotland.

Over 3,000 sites have been surveyed by the volunteers in a little over two years with over 600 ‘priority’1 pest or disease cases being confirmed. As part of this, 11 of the 21 priority pests and diseases already in the UK have been recorded.

A small group of the volunteers also verify cases of tree disease recorded via the Forestry Commission’s Tree Alert², an online reporting tool which allows anyone to report trees showing signs of ill-health.

The project will now continue with funding of £231,000 per year, and additional support, from a wide range of conservation and government bodies.

Chief Plant Health Officer, Professor Nicola Spence, said: “Protecting our trees from the threat of pests and diseases is vitally important to us all, and this project is an excellent example of volunteers, NGOs and government working together to achieve more than we could alone.

Dr Joan Webber, Principal Pathologist at Forest Research, added: “Observatree’s network of trained volunteers gives Forest Research’s scientists many more eyes on the lookout for new threats to tree health. They provide quality reports that let our experts focus on the most urgent cases.”

Defra Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, Lord Gardiner said: “The threat that disease and pests pose to our nation’s trees is a very real and growing concern, for wildlife, for the landscape and for our economy. That is why this year we have pressed hard at EU level for increased protections against Xylella, in order to prevent the devastating disease reaching our shores, and these were approved in October.

“By supporting the next phase of the Observatree project, we hope to identify and fight against these threats that can have a damaging impact on our majestic trees”.  

By focusing on pests and diseases which are of highest concern, the volunteers support Government agencies such as Forest Research and the Forestry Commission, enabling them to take appropriate action at locations of significance identified by the volunteers and tree health professionals, as quickly as possible.

Two volunteer roles were created: the Tree Health Surveyors help spot the presence of specific pests and diseases on common tree species, and the Tree Health Triage Verifiers collect additional information for tree disease records submitted through Tree Alert by the public and Tree Health Surveyors.

A volunteer in Hertfordshire successfully identified only the second case of Oriental Chestnut Gall Wasp in the country and another in Wales recorded over 20 new cases of ash dieback. The project has also been recognised for its work by Horticulture Week and Defra’s own ‘Data Pioneer’ award.

Notes

1For more information on priority pests and diseases visit https://www.observatree.org.uk/tree-health/pests-and-diseases

²Tree Alert is an online reporting tool dedicated to gathering information about the health of the nation’s trees, woods and forests. Reporting via Tree Alert is the fastest way to get tree health concerns to scientists and tree health officers: www.forestry.gov.uk/treealert. In Northern Ireland please report via the TreeCheck website (www.treecheck.net), phone app or by emailing planthealth@daera-ni.gov.uk