In this guest blog, Peter Crow, Project Manager for Observatree explains the threat posed to our native trees from new pests and diseases and explains how we can all play a part in helping to protect them.
As the Project Manager for Observatree, I know what an important role people can play in helping to protect our trees. In recent years, the number of new pests and diseases arriving in the UK has increased at an unprecedented rate. Many originate from far away, brought here accidentally by the movement of plants, soils and wood products. Others may arrive as windblown spores or flying insects, possibly aided by changing climatic conditions. Our trees did not evolve alongside these new arrivals and may not have any natural resistance to them. Dutch elm disease and ash dieback show the major impact that these diseases can have on the biodiversity of our native woodlands. They also demonstrate the difficulty of preventing new pests or diseases from arriving. The quicker a new pest or disease is detected, the better the chance of controlling it. This is where projects like Observatree and citizen scientists have a role.
Established in 2013 and led by Forest Research, this multi-partner project was originally a four year project receiving 50% funding from the EU’s LIFE Programme. Thanks to additional funding from within the partnership Observatree is continuing for the foreseeable future. We’re keen to collaborate more with other groups, helping to raise awareness of tree health concerns and we’re pleased to be joining with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to help spread this important message to you all.
Observatree is designed to give people the resources they need to identify tree pests and diseases and to report them to the correct authorities to facilitate a rapid response where necessary. It does this by:
- Providing a range of educational resources (field guides, posters, videos, webinars) which are freely accessible on the Observatree website.
- Supporting a network of volunteers who receive extensive training in the identification of pests and diseases; these volunteers survey their local trees and report on their health.
It’s not possible to train our volunteers to identify all the potential threats to our trees. The project has chosen 22 pests and diseases that we’re particularly interested in. Many are known to be in the UK, but their distribution can be poorly understood and we need information on their rates of spread in Scotland. For example, although Chalara dieback of ash was first recorded in Scotland in 2012, there remain areas of the country where the disease has not yet been recorded. Observatree volunteers (and you) can help to fill these gaps by submitting Tree Alert records from previously unsurveyed areas. Our Priority list also contains other pests and diseases not thought to be present but have caused serious problems in other countries and we’re concerned about the impacts they could have here. These include insects such as the Emerald ash borer which has killed many ash trees in North America and Canada.
The Observatree volunteers have reported many important findings, including new outbreaks. If you’re interested in getting involved please look at our pest and disease information or find out which ones may be threatening the trees near you, and please report any trees you’re worried about via Tree Alert.