Key Actions 2015-16

Our work is founded on the principle that research and evidence are central to both informed forest policy making and sustainable land management practices. We work in an interdisciplinary way – combining our expertise, information and experiences from different areas of science - to ensure that we provide the best available evidence and information for all our customers.

In the last financial year (2015-16), Forest Research has achieved 21 out of 22 key actions:

We partially achieved: Publish a FC Practice Guide on managing forest operations for soil and water protection

We delivered on Forest Research’s (FR’s) Living with Environmental Change (LWEC)-funded tree health research

P Ramorum on RhododendronFR is leading one of the two successful projects ‘Global threats from Phytophthora spp.’ or ‘PHYTO-THREATS’ and will play a major role in the project, which is led by Reading University.

The PHYTO-THREATS project will address knowledge gaps identified by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ (Defra’s) Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Task Force and the objectives of the joint Defra/Forestry Commission (FC) Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan. Project partners and funders with FR are the James Hutton Institute, the Centre for Hydrology & Ecology, the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA), the University of Edinburgh, the University of Worcester and Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA).

FR is also involved in each of the seven LWEC Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative (THAPBI) Phase 2 projects. Results were presented and several staff were involved in the mid-project meeting hosted by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in York in October. Individual projects continue with a range of activities including stakeholder meetings for the ‘Promoting resilience of UK tree species to novel pests and pathogens: ecological and evolutionary solutions (PROTREE)’ event at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, December 2015. LWEC THAPBI Phase 3 projects were announced in late autumn 2015.

We provided expert advice to underpin the UK pest risk register and new shared contingency plans on priority tree pests; we contributed in the monitoring and evaluation of pest risk

Lesion on branch of Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) caused by Sirococcus tsugae fungusThere has been a significant amount of work on the pest risk register and associated pest risk assessments involving FR’s Entomology and Pathology teams. Entomologists have been involved in the monitoring of oak processionary moth (Thaumetopoea processionea) in Richmond Park, London, and have supported the Oak Processionary Moth Advisory Group. Pathologists have added four potential tree diseases to the risk register including Sirococcus tsugae (affecting cedar), Neonectria neomacrospora (fir), Cryptocline taxicola (yew) and Phytophthora siskiyouensis (alder). Our confirmation of Sirococcus cases has enabled us to start mapping the distribution of this pathogen.

Summaries of enquiries to the FR Tree Health Disease and Diagnostic Service are provided on a quarterly basis to FC and Defra colleagues.

Obervatree logoFR and Observatree volunteers were praised in the winning submission for the Defra Team Awards 2016 in the ‘Data Pioneer’ category for work undertaken during the Oriental chestnut gall wasp (Dryocosmus kuriphilus) outbreak. The award noted ‘The innovative sourcing and analysis of data was used to drive the outbreak response; determine the feasibility and cost effectiveness of interventions, the likelihood of spread and target surveillance activity. Fundamental to the emergency response was the sharing of data modelling and a volunteer base of citizen scientists conducting field surveys. This approach prevented spread of the pest and protected thousands of trees’.

We delivered, with partners, the LIFE+ Observatree project to develop a tree health early warning system, including the formal launch of the Observatree project.

Leaf representing Observatree pilot projectObservatree was launched in April 2015 and continues to have excellent involvement and support. The value of Observatree has been highlighted through an incident of Oriental chestnut gall wasp in summer 2015 – the finding of a second location at St Albans (Hertfordshire, a new site in addition to that at Kent) was made by an Observatree volunteer. The annual board meeting was held in October and good progress reported. The mid-project report was submitted to the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization (EPPO) – the intergovernmental organisation responsible for European cooperation in plant health. A major international conference, co-sponsored by Observatree (Observatree/International Plant Sentinel Network (IPSN) Conference on Tree and Plant Health Early Warning Systems in Europe) took place in February 2016, and was fully booked and attracted GB and international participants. Training of Observatree volunteers is under way for the 2016 field season, and regular communications with them (including webinars and blogs) have engendered interest; indeed, a recent blog was picked up and resulted in an item in Horticulture Week.

We undertook research into ecosystem services gains/losses from peat land-use change

Peatland restorationFR ecologists are working with colleagues to develop studies around peatland forests as they go through land-use change. The approach being adopted is to establish collaborative PhD studentships, which can use the same set of sites and thereby build up knowledge and share instrumentation. The first of these PhDs has been advertised by Leeds University. It will focus on water-based ecosystem services (flood limitation, low flow maintenance, water purification and the aquatic carbon flux component of climate regulation), and matched funding is being sought. Discussions are under way about a second PhD on gas-based climate regulation services (where collaborators and funders are being identified). If funding becomes available, a third PhD would investigate habitat provision/biodiversity.

We published findings of a study into the incorporation of biodiversity into the modelling of rotation length

A FC Research Note Biodiversity and rotation length: economic models and ecological evidence was published in March 2016. (Barsoum et al.). In addition, a research report giving a fuller description will be completed in 2016, and a journal paper (authors Saraev, Valatin, Peace and Quine) is being revised for submission to Forest Ecology and Management.

We coordinated and co-authored a Guidance Note for the forestry sector on avoiding disturbance to woodland birds

Barn OwlA full draft was delivered to FC England at the beginning of October. Feedback was positive – Forest Services England was grateful for the guidance, FC Scotland noted that it was a good basis for revision of its guidance and the FC’s CFS team wished to check some details with Defra. The guidance now resides with the customers to see it signed-off (or changes agreed) by the different parts of their organisations, Defra, wildlife non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private forestry representatives.

We disseminated results of collaborative project on the future management of the native pinewood at Black Wood of Rannoch

BLACK WOOD OF RANNOCH CALEDONIAN FOREST RESERVE. SINGLE PINE. TAY FD.The report on the Black Wood of Rannoch was published (September 2015). The report has been publicised by a number of the partners in the project, and the FR author (David Edwards) has disseminated information to other interested parties (including talks to visitors to the FR Northern Research Station, and a seminar at the Solway Centre, Dumfries Campus of Glasgow University). A journal paper is also being prepared.

We ranked the ash seedling populations for Chalara resistance at the ash trials established in East Anglia 

chalara trials siteThis action was carried forward from 2014–15. Field assessments of all seedlings were completed in October. The results have been collated and statistically analysed. An ‘Ash Newsletter’ report of the findings, including the details of their specific sites, has been sent (March 2016) to the landowners. Defra was also updated with information. As part of this project, FR presented at a Woodland Trust 'Chalara Day' at Pound Farm (one of the ash trial sites) in June. Over 80 people attended, from a range of backgrounds including FC England, Natural England, the Woodland Trust, the nursery trade, arboriculture, the forestry sector and private landowners. FR’s presentations were well received and generated interesting discussion and debate. In an extension to the original work, FR has identified further trial sites and met landowners for the ‘Living Ash’ and LWEC projects. As part of this work the National Forest Company (a non-departmental public body sponsored by Defra) has identified a new planting site near Ashby de la Zouch (Leicestershire) which will be planted in spring 2016.

We identified seed origins of birch and silver fir that are suitable choices for future climates

Silver Fir forestThe work has been completed and peer-reviewed papers have been published in Forestry (‘Early height growth of silver birch (Betula pendula Roth) provenances and implications for choice of planting stock in Britain’) and the European Journal of Forest Research (‘Effects of provenance on the survival, growth and stem form of European silver fir (Abies alba Mill.) in Britain’).

Publication of a Research Note on wood properties and uses of Douglas fir in Great Britain. (this was reframed and achieved)

The customers revised their priorities and asked instead for FR to prepare a Research Note on Scots pine. This has been done.

We released a new version of the ForestGALES decision support tool to assist managers minimise wind damage through woodland design and management 

 London plane blown over by the gales in October 1987.The new improved version of ForestGALES (version 2.5) was released in October and is now available both within the FC and to external users. The release was accompanied by wider communications activity including social media, highlights on the FR website and a detailed article in the forestry press (Forestry and Timber News, October 2015). ForestGALES 2.5 represents a major upgrade of the software and incorporates the results of field measurements of trees’ response to strong winds, and improvements in root anchorage calculations. It predicts most forest stands to be more stable than indicated by previous versions of the software. ForestGALES has also been validated by comparing predicted wind damage to observed damage in Cowal and Trossachs forest district after a major storm that crossed central Scotland on 3 January 2012. Information on the science underpinning and validating ForestGALES has been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

We provided the FC with documentation and a quality assurance system for the forest land component of greenhouse gas inventories

A quality assurance statement entitled ‘UK Greenhouse Gas Inventory LULUCF Forest Land Quality Assurance Statement’ has been completed. Detailed plans to accompany the statement have been written for NFI Area by Yield Class Unit Test, Comparison Test Plan and FC Area by Yield Class Unit Test. A further five plans are in the process of being drafted – these are on incoming data, non-soil CARBINE outputs, CARBINE soil outputs, Harvested Wood Products output from the processing programs and the other outputs from the processing programs.

We publish on the FR website, every six months, information on FR’s knowledge exchange activities, and submit information to the FC for the FC’s digitised catalogue

The FR website was updated in October 2015, and again in early April 2016.

We produced case studies, taken from the range of our seven research programmes, showing the impact that our work has made on forest policy and practice

Case studies formed part of the communications update given at FR’s Executive Board in October 2015 and March 2016 and will be used as part of FR’s ongoing communications activities.

Programme 7 workshop at Alice HoltFR’s work on the Science and Innovation Strategy Programme 7 (Integrating research for policy and practice to deliver resilient forests) is also identifying case studies for deeper investigation of impact – and how knowledge exchange works best for both scientists and practitioners. Two workshops to consider pathways to impact have been held, attracting over 60 attendees.

We participated in specific targeted events including: International Year of Soils; Institute of Fisheries Management Specialist Conference; Institute of Chartered Foresters’ Conference on Tree Health, Resilience and Sustainability; the Annual Conference of the European Forest Institute

Sheila Ward presenting at ICF 2016FR has had a significant presence at a number of conferences. FR presentations at the Institute of Chartered Foresters’ conference in Cardiff included talks on ‘A model for standardised pest and disease risk assessment of UK forests. Case study: Woodland Carbon Code’, ‘How should we manage our forests and what should we plant?’ and ‘Detection and precautionary measures to combat biosecurity threats – a responsibility for all’. At the fisheries conference in Penrith, Cumbria, FR speakers gave presentations on managing forestry and acidification and natural flood management. FR was also active at the Confor Woodland Show (10–11 September) – this included participation in the FC marquee and at Confor/FC seminars including ‘Species introduction’ and ‘Tree health and resilience’. Partly arising from discussions at this show and at the request of FC England and FC Scotland, FR’s Technical Development team organised bespoke small-scale harvesting machinery demonstrations in nearby woodland that attracted over 100 attendees. Similar demonstrations have been held in Scotland (February) and northeast England (March). A wide range of activities have been undertaken during the International Year of Soils – this has included attendance at the ICP Forests Soil Expert Panel meeting (Gottingen, Germany, April 2015); presenting a paper at the ICP Forests Scientific Conference (Ljubljana, Slovenia, May 2015) on ‘Impacts of air pollution on British forests and soils’; co-organising a SEESOIL meeting in East Malling, Kent, on ‘Soil and food security’; a talk to primary school pupils on ‘Soil, where does it come from and who needs it’ (South Farnham); and supervising a number of PhDs. James Pendlebury, FR’s CEO, was vice chair of the European Forest Institute Annual Conference held in Saint Petersburg, Russia, September 2015. Peter Freer-Smith represented the FC and FR at the ‘New Generation Plantations’ conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil (March 2016).

We participate in relevant EU COST Actions in order to develop research approaches, skills and networks

New bids for COST (EU-funded research) were submitted in September 2015. This included a bid regarding ‘Payments for Ecosystem Services – Forests for Water’ led by FR (Gregory Valatin) and involving partners from 17 countries. This bid was confirmed for funding in February – with the project to start in 2016–17.

Diarod logoThe final meeting of the ‘Determining invasiveness and risk of Dothistroma (DIAROD)’ COST Action coordinated by FR was successfully held (October, Krakow, Poland) and attracted praise from the 65 delegates.

We secured external (non-CFS) income of £4.6 million

FR exceeded its target of £4.6 million, securing £5.0 million. Information is included in our Annual Report and Accounts 2015–2016.

We expanded and strengthened relationships in partnership working across government, devolved administrations, international forestry research organisations, universities and forest sector partners

FR has, with others, received praise for the work it did with numerous colleagues across government regarding the Oriental chestnut gall wasp.

We continue to be active internationally: Mariella Marzano, with colleagues from Umea University, Sweden, hosted the inaugural workshop of a new International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) working group ‘Social Dimensions of Forest Health’ – attracting participants from Europe, the USA and New Zealand; Chris Quine was invited to Paris to share experiences of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment with the French group (GIP-ECOFOR) to help develop a national assessment for woodlands of France. Jo Davies undertook a two-week secondment with the European Forest Institute at their Head Office in Finland to exchange/learn from approaches on communications.

We also are active with many universities and research organisations in the UK. The British Ecological Society held their annual meeting in Edinburgh (December 2015). Several FR staff attended and contributed papers including a thematic session coordinated by Kevin Watts. Darren Moseley hosted an ESCom workshop on woodland expansion with presentations from FR, the University of St Andrews and the James Hutton Institute. FR has received praise from the forestry sector on specific areas of work – such as our contributions to the assessment of soil conditions and harvesting regimes on sensitive steep slopes and the delivery of small-scale harvesting machinery demonstrations in England and Scotland – as well as the wide range of detailed advice and services that we provide.

We participated in the development of Defra’s Network Evidence Action Plans (NEAPs) and collaborate with government and others to develop UK LIFE+ bids

 FR participated in several groups on the discussions on the ‘Part A’ sections (known as the ‘what research was required’) of the NEAPs. These have now been renamed as Evidence Action Plans (EAPs), and work has paused as Defra undertakes a review of next steps. FR will also be one of the partners helping to deliver ‘Creating a great place for living: Defra’s strategy to 2020’. This includes FR’s participation in investment in research facilities and capacity. FR is involved in ongoing discussions around a Joint Water Evidence Group for Defra and on the Defra Future Proofing Plant Health programme. FR’s Chief Scientist contributes to the Head of Science and Engineering Professions’ meetings.

We further developed Forest Research in Wales, working with the Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, and new and existing customers and partners

Farm woodlands, WalesA new Shared Service Schedule between Natural Resources Wales and FR was agreed for 2015–16. An updated Shared Service Schedule is, at the time of writing, being negotiated for 2016–17. The work of FR is annually showcased to stakeholders in Wales at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show. FR colleagues exhibited and met customers in 2015 and received good feedback, and preparations are under way for the 2016 event. The FR Executive Board (FREB) met in Bangor in August, and was involved in discussions with Bangor University and Natural Resources Wales colleagues regarding joint research opportunities. Since the August FREB, a Welsh FR office has been established on the Bangor University campus, affording closer ties with the university’s forestry department and other scientists already working with the FR plant health team (e.g. on acute oak decline and Phytophthora). FR continues to strengthen links and explore further collaborative research opportunities with the universities at Aberystwyth, Bangor and Swansea. FR has briefed Welsh Government officials on a range of issues and been actively involved in tree health monitoring and providing continuing professional development opportunities for tree health professionals in Wales. As part of his part-time secondment to the Welsh Government, the Head of FR in Wales regularly provides updates to the Woodland Strategy Advisory Panel (WSAP), which has the formal remit to advise the Welsh Government on the priorities for forestry research for Wales. It was recently agreed that FR staff will be invited to future meetings in order to brief WSAP on topics of interest.

We quantified and assisted training opportunities in forestry research through doctoral training programmes, PhD/MSc studentships and secondments

In 2015–16 FR is funding and/or co-funding and undertaking supervisory work for 48 PhD/MSc/post-doctorate students. FR has seconded staff to FC Scotland (Tree Health Policy) and Defra (Social Science).

We partially achieved: Publish a FC Practice Guide on managing forest operations for soil and water protection

A full draft of a Practice Guide on management operations has been delivered to the FC’s Corporate Forestry Support (CFS) team – and FR will respond to requests for any editorial changes. Publication has been deferred due to intense knowledge exchange activities – including involvement in site visits, briefings, talks and provision of evidence – that arose as a result of the 2015 floods.