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Training the trainers – leading best practice on tree and plant health

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Issued jointly with Fera

More than 50 professional gardeners and foresters from across Great Britain have been trained in detecting and managing pests and diseases which are threatening gardens, woodlands and the countryside.

They will now act as key contacts to cascade training and awareness within their own organisations, and could form part of a wider network being developed in response to the current outbreak of Chalara dieback of ash trees.

Led by The Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera), a wide consortium of organisations from the botanic and heritage gardens and public parks sectors completed training on plant and tree diseases and best practice in plant health and biosecurity.

“Our trees in particular are facing an unprecedented threat from pests and diseases, and it is vital that everybody - Government agencies and key non-Government organisations - work together to combat the threat,” said Dr David Slawson, Head of Plant Health Public Engagement at Fera. “Government cannot do this alone, and it is vital that we develop expertise in other organisations to help”.

Workshops were held at the National Trust's Erddig garden near Wrexham; at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) gardens at Wisley and Harlow Carr; and concluded on Monday 26 November at The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Ian Wright, the National Trust’s lead on Plant Health said,

“Our gardens and woodlands have suffered attacks from a number of pests and diseases, and we have responded by making plant health a priority across the Trust. These workshops have created a new core group of knowledgeable staff who will embed best practice principles across the Trust’s estate.”

Dr John David, Chief Scientist at the RHS, added,

“Sadly, new pests and diseases can enter our gardens on imported plants, and escape into the countryside. For this reason, the country’s gardeners have a major role to play in combating the spread of plant pests and diseases. As the UK’s leading garden charity, the RHS aims to act as a role model to raise awareness of the issues with the nation’s gardeners.”

Dr David Knott, Curator of Living Collections at The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, said,

“Pests and diseases do not stop at country borders, so we applaud the extension of this training to Scotland and Wales.”

Part of the Government’s response to the Chalara ash dieback crisis is to develop a network of key people across Britain who can co-ordinate surveillance and act as a knowledgeable first point of contact to sift reports of suspected findings.

“A priority now is to investigate whether these new trainees can form part of this wider network and act as the nation’s early warning system for new threats,” Dr Slawson concluded.

Notes to editor:

  1. The course comprised a comprehensive programme of biosecurity training, including plant pest and disease pathways and prevention. Presenters were from Fera, RHS and The National Trust. Attendees were from: the RHS; The National Trust (England, Wales and Northern Ireland); National Trust Scotland; English Heritage; the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Edinburgh; the Botanic Garden Glasgow; The Field Studies Council; Scottish Government; Scottish Environment & Rural Services (SEARS); and Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA). The training took place in October and November 2012 across four venues in England, Scotland and Wales.
  2. Two of the aims of the Tree Health & Plant Biosecurity Action Plan are to work with society to make it more aware of threats and pathways and to identify positive steps which professionals and other stakeholders can take to improve the resilience of trees, woodlands, and forests.
  3. Chalara dieback of ash is a serious disease of ash trees caused by a fungus called Chalara fraxinea. The disease causes leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees, and it can lead to tree death. For more information, including how to recognise and report the disease, see the Forestry Commission’s website at:
  4. Last year the RHS introduced an organisation-wide policy on plant health in response to the Phytophthora ramorum outbreak, realising the grave threat to its unique collections of plants and landscape which new pests and diseases present.
  5. The National Trust has helped develop guidance notes on plant health and Chalara, which can be found at .

Media contact: Charlton Clark, 0131 314 6500