Bid to help save our trees from pests and diseases

11th Sep 2012

Research funders have come together in a bid to find innovative ways of addressing current and emerging threats to UK forests, woods and trees from pests and diseases. The multi-disciplinary Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative aims to generate knowledge to support the future health and resilience of trees and woodlands.

Trees make a huge impact on our landscapes and contribute to a vital part of our heritage and rural economy. Trees also help mitigate climate change by capturing and storing carbon. Preserving the health of our trees, woodlands and forests is therefore vital.

In the last few years, several new pests and diseases have emerged as significant risks to the UK's woodlands, commercial forests and urban trees. An increase in trade in plants and plant products entering the UK has increased the risk of importing pests and diseases capable of causing serious damage to our trees. Climate change may also be increasing the risk of pests and diseases establishing and spreading.

These threats have been highlighted by new and severe problems for UK trees in recent years, including: outbreaks of numerous new Phytophthora pathogens (plant-damaging organisms capable of causing enormous damage) affecting trees, heathland plants and heritage gardens; oak processionary moth, with its associated threat to human health; Dothistroma needle blight now seriously affecting commercial pine and potentially threatening native Caledonian pine forests; acute oak decline, with its unknown cause; and horse chestnut bleeding canker and horse chestnut leaf miner which together are significantly affecting the horse chestnut trees.

To help combat the issue, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Forestry Commission and potentially other research councils and devolved administrations are working in partnership to support research and build scientific capacity in the area of tree health and plant biosecurity. The partnership has come together under the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) Partnership and will commit several million pounds over the next three to four years to help tackle the issue.

The initiative is intended to facilitate collaboration between specialists in tree or forest research, and leading-edge scientists from the wider natural, biological, social, economic or other relevant research communities. The first phase of the project aims to build research capacity by initially bringing scientists together at a meeting and workshop in London on the twentieth of September to explore opportunities for collaborative working. The second phase will be a call to submit proposals for research grants, expected to be launched in April 2013.

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