New research projects announced to help save UK forests, woods and trees

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March 25, 2014

  • Seven new research projects will improve understanding of tree pests and pathogens, and associated plant biosecurity
  • £7M awarded to develop research capacity and capability

 

Seven new research projects have received a share of £7M to help address threats to UK forests, woods and trees. The multi-disciplinary Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative (THAPBI) will generate knowledge to tackle pests and diseases and to support the future health of the UK’s woodlands, commercial forests and urban trees. The societal benefits of the UK’s trees are estimated at around £1.8 billion per year.

Dr Elizabeth Orton sampling ash saplings attacked by Chalara dieback in a wood in Norfolk

Dr Elizabeth Orton sampling ash saplings attacked by Chalara dieback in a wood in Norfolk

The John Innes Centre and Forest Research have been awarded a £635K grant to study genetic variation in the fungus that causes Chalara ash dieback. This deadly disease and become widespread throughout East Anglia and Northern Europe. The researchers will investigate how the fungus becomes established in ash trees and how it spreads to new locations. A crucial feature of the project is to identify how individual strains of Chalara set up their own territories within a tree and fight off other strains. Knowledge of how the Chalara fungus colonises ash trees will help forestry breeders and managers to improve control.

In the last few years, several new pests and diseases have emerged as significant risks to tree health and plant biosecurity. Changes in trade in plants and plant products may also contribute to the risk of new pests and diseases entering the UK. Climate change may also be increasing the risk of these pests and diseases spreading.

 

Environment Minister Lord de Mauley said:

“Safeguarding the future of our trees and plants is enormously important — on more than one occasion we have seen the dreadful trail of destruction such diseases can leave behind. And it’s not just the environment that suffers, but the economy too. It is vital we invest in research like this to better protect our precious woodland from the future threat of pest and disease.”

 

The new research projects will help to counter these threats by informing and evaluating potential control, mitigation or adaptation strategies. The projects will also generate natural and social scientific knowledge to improve understanding of the environmental, economic and social impacts of changes in tree health.The projects focus on: new approaches for the early detection of problems; understanding public concerns; increasing resilience against tree disease outbreaks; finding genetic clues to better tree health; biological control of insect pests; and understanding ash dieback.

THAPBI is funded under the auspices of the Living With Environmental Change Partnership with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Economic and Social Research Council, Forestry Commission, Natural Environment Research Council and the Scottish Government.

The research will address knowledge gaps identified by Defra’s Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Task Force and the objectives of the joint Defra/Forestry Commission ‘Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan’. The projects will also ensure that the UK has increased research capacity in these areas.

 

Projects funded under the initiative:

Population structure and natural selection in the Chalara ash dieback fungus, Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus – approx. £635K

Led by Professor James Brown, the John Innes Centre

 

Identifying genomic resources against pests and pathogens in tree genera: a case study in Fraxinus – approx. £760K

Led by Dr Richard Buggs, Queen Mary, University of London

 

Biological pest control of insect pests that threaten tree health – approx. £900K

Led by Professor Tariq Butt, Swansea University

 

Promoting resilience of UK tree species to novel pests and pathogens: ecological and evolutionary solutions – approx. £1.4M

Led by Dr Stephen Cavers, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

 

Modelling economic impact and strategies to increase resilience against tree disease outbreaks – approx. £900K

Led by Dr Adam Kleczkowski, University of Stirling

 

New approaches for the early detection of tree health pests and pathogens – approx. £1.9M

Led by Dr Rick Mumford, Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera)

 

Understanding public risk concerns: an investigation into the social perception, interpretation and communication of tree health risks – approx. £615K

Led by Dr Clive Potter, Imperial College London

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