New plant health officer hears of Northern Ireland's work on exotic tree pests

Defra's newly appointed chief plant health officer Professor Nicola Spence heard about the work of the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in fighting tree pathogens during a visit to its Belfast headquarters last week.

Professor Spence flanked by Northern Ireland's Forest Service chief executive Malcolm Beattie (L) and AFBI chief executive Professor Seamus Kennedy
Professor Spence flanked by Northern Ireland's Forest Service chief executive Malcolm Beattie (L) and AFBI chief executive Professor Seamus Kennedy

The institute leads the fight against the introduction of new pests and diseases into Northern Ireland, including the tree pathogens Phytophthora ramorum and Chalara fraxinea, as well as the invasive soil pest the New Zealand flatworm.

Its work ranges from developing and improving diagnostics, investigating the epidemiology and virulence of pathogen and pest populations and developing the methods of exclusion, eradication and containment.

In the case of ash dieback caused by C. fraxinea, AFBI staff developed a molecular test which allowed the Northern Ireland Executive to check the progress of the outbreak last year, and to demonstrate that only recently imported nursery stock had been affected.

AFBI also provided testing and advice to the Executive when P. ramorum was identified in Northern Ireland for the first time in Japanese larch in 2010.

It is also resonsible for statutory plant health testing in the province.


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