Tree decay study combines arboriculture with science

Arboriculturists could soon benefit from greater evidence on the causes of tree decay following a plan to combine science with day-to-day working.

A study that will examine tree failure and its links with soil deficiencies is set to begin in the coming months. Led by Treework Environmental Practice (TEP), the research will link arboriculture with laboratory science.

The work is a result of TEP conference Trees, Roots, Fungi, Soil: Below-ground Ecosystem and Implications for Tree Health, held in Cardiff last month.

TEP principal consultant Neville Fay said: "We are making a link with a laboratory that specialises in organics and will provide - very cheaply - biological tests on soil."

He added: "We do see it as something that would be a benefit for arboriculturists as a whole, particularly as it will create a standard protocol that we can share."

The study will quantify bacteria, nematodes and mycorrhizae in the soil, and will aim to find links with tree failure. Fay said: "As arboriculturists, we are not scientists and we need to bring in other experts to support us."

Two key areas the research will examine are bleeding canker and oak decline. Fay added that he would also like the research to look at leaf infestations.

"We are in the very initial stages of developing a relationship with a laboratory," he explained.

"We would like individuals to come to us with trees that are under decline or stress.

"They would record where these conditions are, identify what the stress is and take soil samples."

The work might compare three stressed trees with three nearby that are not in decline, looking at soil deficiencies in the area.

"We will be looking initially at sites with important collections of trees that are open to the public, for example at National Trust sites," added Fay. "But, ultimately, it could roll out to garden and street trees - this has to be a long-term study."

The initial work will be followed up with a conference next winter.


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