New research to address threefold threat to Scots pine

Scottish researchers have embarked on a £1.4m tree health project to protect the country's national tree, the Scots pine, from new pests and diseases.

Scots pine wood, Ardnamurchan - image:Arran Moffat
Scots pine wood, Ardnamurchan - image:Arran Moffat

The Living with Environmental Change (LWEC)-funded PROTREE project, a collaboration between seven research institutes and universities, will study three serious threats to the species, Dothistroma needle blight, pine pitch canker and the pine-tree lappet moth.

Dr Peter Hoebe of Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) will be studying the Dothistroma needle blight, a lethal fungal disease which has been on the rise in the UK since the 1990s.

He said: "We have work out why we are seeing such a sharp increase in cases of needle blight in Scotland. Are we importing it from nurseries abroad or could it be down to an overuse of fungicides in nurseries here?

"Young trees are routinely given strong doses of fungicide in order to protect them; however it could actually be making them more vulnerable to attack. We don't know why exactly but we do know that you can find Dothistroma in natural forests causing no harm at all, yet we see serious damage caused by the fungus in and around nurseries and plantations."

The research team will study different strains of the pathogen, comparing more benign varieties with the apparently more aggressive strains, as well as comparing foreign strains with those found in native woodlands.

Other project partners at the University of Aberdeen, Forest Research and the James Hutton Institute will focus on pine pitch canker, a highly virulent pathogen that is not yet present in the UK, and the pine tree lappet moth, a native of continental Europe and Asia which has recently established in Scotland.

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