Tree health experts have secured nearly a million pounds of EU funding over four years to develop the LIFE+ ObservaTREE, an early warning system of pest and disease threats to the UK’s trees.
Led by the research agency of the Forestry Commission, the project will help to identify tree health problems earlier, and enable members of the public and voluntary bodies to play a greater role in protecting woodland health by reporting incidents.
The UK has seen an increase in the incidence of new tree pests and diseases over the past decade, partly due to the expansion and globalisation of trade in live plants and wood products. Trade routes can act as pathways for the introduction of new pests and diseases, and ObservaTREE will enable vigilance for new threats to be stepped up. The project’s partners include the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), the Woodland Trust and the National Trust.
The Woodland Trust’s Dr Kate Lewthwaite said: “We are delighted to be part of this project and will recruit and train a network of volunteers and tree health ‘champions’ from a wide spectrum of backgrounds – from ordinary citizens to those already working in forestry, horticulture and arboriculture.
“These volunteers and champions will support Forest Research scientists by acting as a first line of response to reports of tree pests and diseases sent in by the public from their localities. They will do this by responding to, screening and helping to investigate reports of suspected pest and disease threats.”
There is a great deal of relief after the Government has shelved controversial plans to sell off England’s publicly owned woodlands to the private sector. The u-turn was made after 500,000 people signed an online petition against the unpopular proposal.
Speaking last week, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson announced that the nation’s public forests would remain publicly owned and held in trust for future generations by a new public body. “I want to put the future of our public forests on a clear and firm footing,” he said. “Our forests and woodland will remain secured in public ownership for the people who enjoy them, the businesses that depend on them and the wildlife that flourishes in them.”
The Forestry Commission will be given extra funding of £3.5m this year to make up for not selling forestry land and an additional £2m has been found to help the commission deal with ash dieback.
Hen Anderson, of campaign group Save Our Woods, welcomed the Government’s response, saying it was vindication of the 500,000 who signed the online petition. “Very positive,” she said. “Two years ago they were flogging off the lot, but a half a million people kicked them in the pants.”
But some charities have criticised the lack of any timetable for setting up the new trust body and said the important work carried out by the Forestry Commission remained endangered by heavy budget cuts.
The RSPB said: “While these proposals are encouraging, they won’t help if our woodlands are starved of funding and effective management in the long term.”
Posted in Nature, Trees, Wildlife
Tagged campaigns, conservation, countryside, Forestry Commission, Owen Paterson, petitions, RSPB, Save Our Woods, woods