Developing the UK’s tree health early warning system

Banner for Defra Tree Health survey

Recent tree pest and disease outbreaks have raised public awareness of the threats to tree health and the need to build resilience to combat these threats.

Forest Research (FR) and the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) are collaborating with a range of partners to deliver a sector-wide early warning detection system for tree pests and diseases at a UK-wide scale, as part of the delivery of the Defra-FC Biosecurity and Plant Health Action Plan. As recommended by the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce Interim Report (November 2012), the early warning system initiative is employing citizen science as an additional method of surveillance.

The objectives of the collaborations are to:

  • Develop a single, transparent and unambiguous system for the early detection and monitoring of tree pests and diseases;
  • Engage citizens and volunteers from the sector to report tree health incidents; and
  • Increase the UK’s capacity to respond to tree health incidents, by developing the use of FR’s tree health incidents database and building the capacity of volunteer verifiers.

Two main projects are currently underway.

Leaf representing ObservaTree pilot project LIFE ObservaTree

The ObservaTree partnership (Forest Research, Forestry Commission, Fera, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust) have recently secured EU funding to develop a UK integrated Tree Health Early Warning System (THEWS). The project is funded by LIFE, the EU’s financial instrument that supports environmental policy and nature conservation projects.

The project aims to identify tree health problems earlier and to harmonise knowledge and communications within a single system. The project has received strong support from the government Tree Health and Biosecurity Action Plan and funding from Defra for preparatory actions.

In preparation for LIFE ObservaTree, Forest Research (FR), Fera, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust are collaborating with Defra to strengthen and test the core infrastructures needed for an improved UK early warning system. The ObservaTree pilot project, focusing on ash, was completed in March 2013. The Defra funding is helping government to speed up delivery of the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan by ‘developing a modern, user-friendly, expert system to provide quick and intelligent access to data about tree health and plant biosecurity'.

Between July and October 2013, and covered by ‘shoulder’ funding from Defra, the partnership are delivering a series of actions to prepare for LIFE ObservaTree. These include consolidating and testing the IT infrastructure, planning and delivering a range of communication and engagement activities, and carrying out further engagement work with volunteers.

Please note this project continues as ObservaTree

Logos of partners involved in the ObservaTREE pilot project

Opal logoCitizen science tree health survey

FR and Fera are working with OPAL (the Open Air Laboratories) on a citizen science tree health survey. The OPAL citizen science project has been underway since 2007, to inspire communities to discover, enjoy and protect their local environment. Funded by the Big Lottery, the project has already engaged over half a million members of the public in its first six surveys. OPAL’s tree health survey is helping to assess the condition of Britain’s ash, oak and horse chestnut. The survey includes provision to report six ‘Most Unwanted’ tree health threats and also includes a ‘Tree Buddy’ initiative. Information gathered from the survey will be fed into FR’s tree health incidents database. Led by Imperial College London, this survey was launched in May 2013.

various logos Imperial London logo Lottery logo


Kate Hutchinson


What's of interest

EU LIFE funding secured to develop an early warning system for UK pest and disease threats

FC OTREE press release

Related pages

Useful sites