Observatree hits the road, September 2016

93zcat-i1Arboricultural Association ‘boled’ over by Observatree! By Dr Charles Lane, Fera Science Ltd

Ana Perez Sierra (Forest Research) and I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at the Arboricultural Association National Amenity conference held at Keele University on 4-7 September 2016. This year’s meeting was in collaboration with the Landscape Institute with the theme ‘Planning for the future’. It was attended by about 250 delegates from the UK and overseas.

On Monday afternoon there was a special session on ‘Tree health’ and I had been invited to speak about ‘inspiring the next generation of plant health scientists’. This provided me with an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about the skills shortages in plant biosecurity but also the key role of citizen science for the future and projects such as Observatree, OPAL and IPSN (International Plant Sentinel Network).

Ana gave an excellent presentation entitled ‘Observatree and early warning systems for tree health‘. The session included two further excellent talks from Neville Fay and Lucio Montecchio about emerald-ash-borer1plane wilt in Italy. Peter Thomas’ (Keele University) ‘Is ash doomed in Britain?’ talked about ash dieback and emerald ash borer. Although biased, in my opinion this was the most interesting and dynamic session with a very good Q&A session and many follow-up questions in the trade exhibit later.

img_2263Observatree had a trade stand at the meeting. We have become used to this very high quality, attractive and informative stand that really showcases the project and the work carried out by volunteers. There was a constant throng of people around the stand and both Anna O’Connor and Judith Garforth (Observatree) did a fantastic job explaining about the project. Ana and I were able to provide technical help and, from my experience, many people were not only aware but also supportive of the project’s aims and ambitions, wanting to see a long term future for it.

In addition to the trade stand and talks Ana, along with her Forestry Commission colleagues and I, led a ‘pests and diseases’ walk around the university campus. This was offered to delegates on three consecutive days and was exceptionally popular with about 75 people attending in all.

img_2266The site is ‘blessed’ (a term used by plant pathologists!) with several Observatree priority pests and diseases. Ana expertly led the group around the campus and we saw some fantastic symptoms of horse chestnut bleeding canker, Phytophthora ramorum, acute oak decline and sirococcus blight of cedar (see images on my Twitter account). The walks and talks were so popular with delegates that, much to Ana’s surprise, she was awarded the Arboricultural Association conference trade exhibitors prize. To say that she was ‘bowled’ (or should it be ‘boled’) over was an understatement!

The Arboricultural Association conference and its association with the Landscape Institute provided an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about Observatree. I was heartened that many of the delegates had already heard of Observatree and were using our online resources to support their work. I was particularly pleased that everyone we spoke to valued the role of Citizen Science in tree health early warning and that Observatree must continue beyond the existing funding from the EU’s Life+ programme.

peter_crow-4Observatree makes its mark at APF 2016 by Peter Crow, Observatree Project Manager

This year, Observatree is aiming to raise awareness of key tree pests and diseases to a wider audience as well as promote the high quality educational resources available on our website.

In addition to attending the AA National Amenity conference at the start of September, Observatree also attended the APF Show 2016 just 10 days later. Billed as ‘the UK’s largest and most exciting forestry, woodland, arboricultural, trees and timber event’ this biannual gathering was anticipating over 18,000 visitors and almost 300 exhibitors over three days.

apf-chainsawWith pole climbing, chainsaw carving, machinery and working horse demonstrations to tempt people, tree health had a lot to compete with. However, having a stand in the Forestry Commission marquee near the main entrance meant a steady stream of visitors to our stand – from professionals and land owners to forestry teachers and students.

apf_stand3Each day I gave a presentation on the project in the exhibition’s ‘seminar tent’, often competing against a background noise of chainsaws and snoring dogs. Attendees came to our stand afterwards for a more informal chat and to take away either an Observatree leaflet, magnifier or pest and disease calendar.

Overall, attending the show was a success. There was considerable interest in our project and resources available. Many visitors to the stand signed up to receive our quarterly project e-newsletter and blog. Several people were also keen to become future volunteers.

I was glad to see first-hand that tree health is obviously a major concern to many people and the Observatree project and volunteers continue to generate a lot of interest.