£1m pledged to aid identification of tree health problems

A project which is taking a 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.

Forest Research, Fera, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust. will use the project, called ObservaTREE, 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.

Forestry Commission plant health service head Dr John Morgan said: "Securing this funding demonstrates the Government’s commitment to tree and plant 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."

Fera head of public engagement Dr David Slawson 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."

Woodland Trust representative 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."

Forest Research tree health head Dr Joan Webber 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."

The project will build a library to share information on the greatest pest and disease risks that could feed into the risk register recommended in the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Taskforce Report.

National Trust natural environment director Simon Pryor said:"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."

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.

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. ObservaTREE builds on the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) Tree Health Survey launched in May 2013.

See www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/observatree.

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