People power to help tackle tree disease

New tree health ‘early warning system’ established

Research scientist working on Acute Oak Decline in tree health laboratory surrounded by jars. The jars are cages holding two spotted oak buprestid (Agrilus biguttatus) which is part of a feeding experiment. Location: Alice Holt research station, Hampshire, England.Citizen science and new technology are being combined in the fight against tree disease as part of Observatree, a new project which aims to help protect the UK’s trees, woods and forests from harmful pests and diseases – existing or new.

Over the past 12 months more than 200 volunteers across the UK have been trained as part of a collaboration led by Forest Research and which includes the Forestry Commission, Defra and Natural Resources Wales, FERA, APHA, the National Trust and the Woodland Trust. Observatree is funded by the EU’s Life programme.

The volunteers will, amongst other tasks, verify cases of tree disease recorded via the Forestry Commission’s Tree Alert, an online reporting tool which allows anyone to report trees showing signs of ill-health.  Tree health officers and forestry professionals are especially being encouraged to use Tree Alert to report possible sightings of pests and diseases at an early stage.

Chief Plant Health Officer, Professor Nicola Spence, said: “Protecting our trees from the threat of pests and diseases is vitally important to us all, and this project is an excellent example of volunteers, NGOs and government working together to achieve more than we could alone.

“The forestry sector, with its wealth of expertise, has a particularly important role to play in protecting the future of our trees through keeping a look out for signs of tree pests and diseases, and reporting sightings through Tree Alert. Early warning systems such as this will give us the best chance of eradicating and controlling these threats.”

By focusing on pests and diseases which are of highest concern, the volunteers will support Government agencies such as Forest Research, enabling them to take appropriate action at locations of significance identified by the volunteers and Tree health officers as quickly as possible.

Dr Joan Webber, Principal Pathologist at Forest Research, added: “Observatree’s network of trained volunteers gives Forest Research’s scientists many more eyes on the lookout for new threats to tree health. They provide quality reports that let our experts focus on the most urgent cases.”

Two volunteer roles have been created: the Tree Health Surveyors spot the presence of specific pests and diseases on common tree species, and the Tree Health Triage Verifiers contact landowners to collect additional information for tree disease records submitted through Tree Alert by the public and Tree Health Surveyors. Further opportunities to become a trained volunteer will be available during the course of the project, which runs until the end of 2017.

Adam Coole, Observatree volunteer, said:“This project is all about being aware of what is happening to trees across the UK, and as a gardener and arborist, this is very important to me. All of us see trees everyday, whether on the roadside, in the park or outside the school gates. If everyone engages with Observatree it has the potential to be a hugely significant early warning system.”

For further information about the project visit