EU provides €1.1M in funding to develop early warning system for threats to UK's trees from pests and disease; UK Forestry Commission's research agency is leading ObservaTREE project, which secured the funding over four years from EU's LIFE+ program

EDINBURGH, Scotland , August 1, 2013 (press release) – Tree health experts have secured nearly a million pounds of European Union funding to develop an early warning system for pest and disease threats to the UK’s trees.

The LIFE+ ‘ObservaTREE’ project, which takes an innovative new approach to managing risks to tree health, has been awarded 1.1 million Euros (nearly £945,000) over four years from the EU’s LIFE+ programme.

Led by Forest Research, the research agency of the Forestry Commission, the ObservaTREE project’s partners also include the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), the Woodland Trust and the National Trust. ObservaTREE will help to identify tree health problems earlier, and enable members of the public and voluntary bodies to play a greater role in protecting woodland health by reporting incidents.

Welcoming the funding, Dr John Morgan, Head of the Forestry Commission's Plant Health Service, said,

“Securing this funding demonstrates the Government’s commitment to plant and tree heath, which is one of Defra’s four key priorities.

“And bringing together all the main actors in one project will help policy teams and practitioners to collaborate on tree health matters across the borders of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It will also enable them to link up with other EU states and organisations who can share valuable knowledge about tree health threats with the UK.”

The UK has seen an increase in the incidence of new tree pests and diseases over the past decade, partly due to the expansion and globalisation of trade in live plants and wood products. Trade routes can act as pathways for the introduction of new pests and diseases, and ObservaTREE will enable vigilance for new threats to be stepped up, supporting implementation of the UK’s Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Taskforce Report.

Dr David Slawson, Head of Public Engagement at Fera, added,

“People are passionate about trees, and this EU grant will help the UK to intensify the use of professionals and the public to look out for and report new tree pests and diseases. We also hope it will act as a catalyst for further citizen surveillance.”

The Woodland Trust and National Trust will bring to the project a wealth of experience in recruiting and training volunteers. The Woodland Trust's Dr Kate Lewthwaite said,

"The Woodland Trust is delighted to be a partner in this important project.

“We will recruit and train a network of volunteers and tree health ‘champions’ from a wide spectrum of backgrounds - from ordinary citizens to those already working in forestry, horticulture and arboriculture. These volunteers and champions will support Forest Research scientists by acting as a first line of response to reports of tree pests and diseases sent in by the public from their localities. They will do this by responding to, screening and helping to investigate reports of suspected pest and disease threats.”

Dr Joan Webber, Head of Tree Health Research at Forest Research, added,

“Creating this trained body of volunteer Tree Health Champions is really exciting. By helping to filter and check reported incidents, the Tree Health Champions will really help public-sector scientists to focus on the reports of greatest significance.”

Building a library to share information on the greatest pest and disease risks will also give impetus to the new UK priority risk register recently commissioned on the recommendation of the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Taskforce Report.

Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director at the National Trust, commented,

“Tree health is a huge topic, with lots of new information becoming available. It’s really challenging to ensure that this information is sufficiently widely available to all interested parties. This project will help us to integrate knowledge about the threats themselves, and also to share experience about different plant health approaches.”

Further information about ObservaTREE is available from www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/observatree.

Notes to Editor:

  1. LIFE+ ObservaTREE is expected to get under way in October 2013. The total project budget will be €2.2 million, comprising the €1.1 million EU grant and the balance provided by the core partners.
  2. LIFE+ ObservaTREE is one of nine UK-led projects funded this year by LIFE, the EU’s financial instrument that supports environmental policy and nature conservation projects throughout the EU.
  3. ObservaTREE builds on the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) Tree Health Survey launched in May 2013. Designed in collaboration with Forest Research and Fera and led by Imperial College, it encourages people to get out, have fun and survey the health of trees in a fixed-term project to take a “snapshot in time” of the current level of pests and diseases in Britain’s trees. See www.opalexplorenature.org/TreeSurvey.
  4. Information provided through Tree Alert, the Forestry Commission’s new app and on-line tool for reporting suspected cases of key pests and diseases, will feed into ObservaTREE. See www.forestry.gov.uk/treealert.
  5. Forest Research is the UK's foremost body for forest and tree-related research and technical development. Its work informs the development and implementation of UK Government and devolved administration policies for sustainable management and protection of trees, woods and forests. www.forestry.gov.uk/forestresearch.
  6. The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) is an Executive Agency of the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). Its remit is to provide evidence, analysis and expert professional advice to support and develop a sustainable and secure food chain and a healthy natural environment. Fera is responsible for the implementation of Plant Health policy in England and Wales. www.fera.defra.gov.uk
  7. The Woodland Trust is the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity, championing native woods and trees. It has more than 500,000 members and supporters and its three key aims are: i) to enable the creation of more native woods and places rich in trees; ii) to protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future; and iii) to inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees. Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has more than 1200 sites in its care, covering approximately 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres). Access to all Woodland Trust sites is free. www.woodlandtrust.org.uk.
  8. The National Trust is one of Europe’s largest heritage and conservation NGOs, with 4 million members and more than 67,000 volunteers. The Trust is the largest UK owner of ancient trees, and welcomes about 20 million visits a year to its woodlands. It has managed and participated in many successful LIFE projects. www.nationaltrust.org.uk

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