Public help needed to halt the spread of Phytophthora

The public should be playing a more active role in helping to combat the spread of Phytophthora, according to researchers from Imperial College London.

The team from the university's Centre for Environmental Policy has published a report examining the Government's response to the disease from 2002 to 2009.

The report highlighted the need for an increase in the number of staff tasked with "proactive surveying, monitoring and testing" for new outbreaks of P. ramorum and P. kernoviae.

Co-author of the report Isobel Tomlinson explained: "Although the situation is potentially very serious indeed, we have evidence that people visiting gardens and the countryside would be willing to play a more active part in addressing the problem."

The Government's Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) was set up in 2009 to manage a £25m Phytophthora programme.

FERA head of plant pest and disease programme Dr David Slawson explained: "The need to reach out to the public has been recognised by the formation of a joint working group on Phytophthora behaviour change and biosecurity for heritage and botanic gardens."

The group met for the first time in December and will meet again in March. Slawson said the aim was to develop codes of practice and training in plant disease.

Head of the Forestry Commission's Plant Health Service Roddie Burgess added that the organisation's newly-launched Biosecurity Programme Board would assist in "meeting its objective to protect the nation's trees and woodlands from pests and diseases".

Arboricultural Association chairman Jon Heuch, who sits on the new biosecurity board, said there was "no doubt" that the public could be useful."The issue is that it takes time and resources," he warned. "It is no small task."

National Trust regional gardens adviser for Devon and Cornwall Ian Wright said: "We'll be looking in detail at the report's recommendations and will continue to work with FERA's guidelines on what the public can do to play their part."

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