In July Woodland Heritage awarded Joan Webber their prestigious Peter Savill Award. The accolade was given in recognition of the impact her work has made to forestry in the UK and was presented at Alice Holt by Peter Savill.
Joan has been the lead pathologist at Forest Research since 2000 and for the last five years has been head of their Tree Health Research Group (consisting of around 30 scientists and students). She has more than 30 years of international research and collaboration to her name and over 100 published papers including two in the eminent journal ‘Nature’. Joan is no stranger to awards, in 2014 she was honoured with the Institute of Chartered Foresters Medal, the highest award from the institute and an acknowledgement of her professional excellence in forest pathology.
The focus of Joan’s work has been on the diseases of forest trees, exploring their behaviour and impact, their potential for change and the best management of organisms which can throw up major challenges to forest managers. Most recently her research has concentrated on investigating alien invasive pathogens such as Phytophthora and most recently Chalara, the cause of Ash dieback.
Joan’s passion for tree pathology was first ignited by a small project she conducted on Dutch Elm Disease whilst an undergraduate at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth. It was here her interest was recognised and nurtured through a PhD on Dutch Elm Disease. During this research she discovered amongst other things a natural biological control for the disease, leading to her first paper in Nature.
In 1979 Joan became a Research Fellow at Southampton University where she continued her research into Dutch Elm Disease, with her future husband and long term science collaborator Clive Brasier. Reflecting on her studies, Joan says ‘working on a pathology challenge like Dutch Elm Disease is both rewarding and very exciting. There are few people who haven’t heard of the disease and it has been a passport to travel the world to see elms and the disease’.
Today Joan also works with FC and DEFRA plant health colleagues to provide advice on new and changing threats to tree health. Over the past ten years there has been a growing interest from foresters and tree growers about tree diseases and an increasing demand for information at forest health days, seminars and training days. She says ‘it is a pleasure and a privilege to be invited to participate in these events. People are always pretty reasonable even when we often can’t give them answers on what to do, just how bad things might become!’.
In recent years Woodland Heritage has also invested significant funds in Forest Research to support research into Acute Oak Decline which is led by Dr Sandra Denman, another of Forest Research’s pathologists.