Options to keep out sudden oak death could include dips at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew could install foot-and-mouth disease-style wash dips for visitors to help keep out infection if Phytophthora ramorum hits London gardens.

Curator Nigel Taylor said: "If a sudden oak death problem becomes very serious and there is a risk of infection, a public fungicide dip is one last stage we could adopt." He said P. ramorum, known as SOD in the US, had yet to hit Kew and that its gardeners were taking three big steps to keep the woody plant killer out.

These are to increase air movement around woody growth by thinning plants such as Rhododendron ponticum, quarantining seeds and plants from areas where the disease is known to be a problem and cleaning staff boots and clothes after they visit other gardens.

Taylor added that oak processionary moth is a more pressing issue — the pest's numbers at Kew rose in 2009. He said he hopes that their numbers will decline in 2010 after repeat treatments on trees known to be affected.

Kew "is not an island", said Taylor, and is susceptible to re-infections from neighbours. He explained that only a late frost will control the pest, which has eggs tough enough to survive cold winters.

He said gardeners had "blasted" on infected trees next to the riverside, but moths are still reappearing. "It's a very adaptable pest. One year there's a big nest, another a small nest. Diverse behaviour is gradually coming out."

He added that the cold snap meant that spring would not be early. "That's not a bad thing. If you had asked me four weeks ago I would have said 2010 will be one of the earliest springs ever. Daffodils and crocuses were starting to come up. But then the cold came and nothing has changed.

"This is good for controlling common pests because spring drags out and doesn't have a big visual impact if it starts very early."

Taylor said he expects to see more community working between historic and botanic gardens in 2010. He added that Kew's 1.3 million visitors in 2010 was "a pleasant surprise", although slightly below the figures for 2008.

Kew has no "blockbuster" exhibition for 2010 - Taylor pointed out that Henry Moore-style shows "drain resources" — but a land art show is being discussed for 2011. Kew's themes for 2010 are biodiversity and family.

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