During the past year, Forest Research has been involved in studies across a broad range of subjects, including pests and diseases, the effects of climate change, valuing forest ecosystem services and the use of forests to improve people’s health and well-being. These, and some of our other activities from the year, are summarised below.
Since 2015, Forest Research has been working on the forestry side of the EU Pest Organisms Threatening Europe (POnTE) project, with 25 other partners. EU agriculture and forestry are increasingly threatened by alien and native pests as a consequence of trade globalisation and climate change. POnTE aims to find practical, effective solutions for the prevention and integrated control of key emerging pests, including Hymenoscyphus fraxineus,which causes Chalara ash dieback, and Phytophthora species, which affect forest ecosystems.
We are investigating both the biology and control of Chalara ash dieback. For example, to better understand the life cycle and seasonal variance of Chalara spores, we are measuring their airborne presence throughout the year. We already have two years’ data and will continue to record data for a third year. We are also gathering Chalara from different European countries to study genetic variation within and between pathogen populations. Meanwhile, we are developing a technique using Real Time PCR to detect whether Chalara is present in ash (Fraxinus excelsior) seeds. Additionally, for disease control, we are researching whether hot water can eradicate Chalara from ash seeds if they are disease infested.
The other part of this project focuses on the detection of new Phytophthora species that may already be present in British soils. This work involves sampling both ‘natural’ and ‘disturbed’ sites throughout Britain to establish a baseline of Phytophthora presence. The aim is to identify those species that might pose a threat to UK trees in the future. Soils from England, Scotland and Wales have been studied using Illumina Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) and bioinformatics analyses, which identify those Phytophthora species present by their DNA profile.
We are also surveying for possible new Phytophthora species or hybrids in widely different environments, such as forests, riverside woodlands, new plantings, tree collections and public gardens in the UK. Additionally, as Southeast Asia is regarded as the centre of origin for many introduced Phytophthora pathogens that affect forest trees in Europe, our staff have been involved in some intensive surveys in Vietnam and Japan to see what Phytophthoras exist in their natural environments and thus anticipate possible future threats.
In response to the State of Natural Resources Report published by Natural Resources Wales in September 2016, the Welsh Government commissioned Forest Research to estimate the value of benefits (ecosystem goods and services) provided by forests in Wales. Such quantification and valuation is essential to developing natural capital accounts that include forests, as well as the pursuit of many sustainable forestry goals. The results of Forest Research’s study were published in late 2017.
The aim was to provide experimental environmental accounts, at an all-Wales level, using methods employed for the UK by the Office for National Statistics for natural capital accounting that it developed in partnership with Defra, and using the best available data for the Welsh context.
We estimated the annual aggregate value of the four ecosystem service flows provided by woodlands in Wales (timber extraction, carbon sequestration, recreation and air quality improvement) at just over £600 million per annum (in 2015 prices). Of the values of the four services, air quality improvement due to pollution removal is the largest, followed by carbon sequestration, recreation and then timber production.The total asset value (the net present value over 50 years) of the four woodland ecosystem services is estimated to amount to about £18 billion (in 2015 prices).
The study compares Wales and UK values and discusses major sources of uncertainty in some of the estimates and causes of discrepancies between the Welsh and UK figures.
The study will inform policy development, supporting the sustainable management of natural resources as described in the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and delivery against the ‘Well-being of Future Generations’goals.
The Active Forest programme is a partnership funded by Sport England and Forestry Commission England, set up to understand more about participation and the provision of outdoor activity in forests. Forest Research led the evaluation of the recently completed three-year pilot programme, which focused on five forests in England. A wide range of core activities such as running and cycling were developed through the programme, along with a variety of events and new activities such as table tennis, volleyball, Gruffalo orienteering and football.
Our social and statistical scientists gathered a range of organisational, survey, interview and focus group data and published an evaluation report. The evaluation approach was critical to the programme and encouraged a willingness between the partners to discuss methods, change approach, trial new methods and learn and adapt as the programme progressed.
There were 700,097 sporting visits during the pilot, with a 246% increase in the number of visits in the third year compared with the first. Focus group data indicated that the beauty, scenery, wildlife, sensory experiences, sense of freedom, getting away from everyday life, and atmosphere of the forest sites were key drivers for participants to get involved. The four key benefits identified by over 80% of survey respondents were physical well-being, fun and enjoyment, mental well-being and a feeling of escape and freedom.
Key success factors that led to well-being outcomes included the size and attractiveness of the forests, the governance of the programme, the range of activities on offer, and the programme targeting a diverse range of people.
The Active Forest programme is now being expanded and 20 forest sites will be involved over the next five years. Our scientists have further developed the evaluation and will help the partners to develop and adapt their approach based on the evaluation findings.
Although spending time outdoors is known to have many health benefits, it can also have risks. One of these risks is the threat of Lyme disease, and recent studies are suggesting an increase in the number of Lyme disease cases in the future, due in part to changes in the climate. Forest Research has been working with Forestry Commission Scotland to determine how environment-sector organisations can convey the risks to their visitors and staff that spend time outside without causing undue alarm.
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in Europe. It is a bacterial infection transmitted by infected ticks that are usually picked up by brushing against vegetation or animals. Ticks are found on deer or sheep, but also on pets and warm-blooded animals. Not all ticks carry the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease. Early treatment can successfully halt the disease, but vigilance is important.
Forest Research’s social scientists conducted a literature review of Lyme disease, focusing on how it is spread, detected and treated, and its incidence in the UK. We then looked at what behaviours would be most relevant to reducing a person’s risk of infection while still benefiting from the many advantages of spending time outdoors. A risk communication framework was developed, considering what behaviours are needed to reduce risk, who the key audience is, where the information should be targeted, and how.
A Briefing Note has been published, outlining the findings from this work. This includes guidance on the best points in time at which behaviour may be influenced and what actions could be taken by the environment-sector organisations and their staff and visitors. This publication forms part of a larger awareness-raising programme led by Forestry Commission Scotland that includes some public information on checking for ticks and internal staff case studies and videos.
One important aspect of Forest Research’s response to threats to tree health is the building of long-term resilience to pests and diseases within our forested landscapes. The PROTREE project set out to better understand how we might develop this resilience using Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) as a model species. The project was led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, with Forest Research and five other research organisations as partners. It was funded through the Living With Environmental Change partnership’s Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative.
Forest Research’s work in PROTREE has been particularly successful in developing our understanding of Dothistroma needle blight by clarifying the native and non-native status of strains of the disease in Britain. We have also shown that seeds sampled from native populations of Scots pine, grown under common conditions, show high diversity in terms of their susceptibility to the pathogen. This suggests they have the genetic adaptability to evolve resilience to the disease.
We have also studied aspects of pine pitch canker (caused by the fungus Fusarium circinatum), a disease in Spain that could potentially spread to Britain. This work showed that conifers differ in their susceptibility, with Monterey pine (P. radiata) being most susceptible and Scots pine the least susceptible to pine pitch canker. We also found that different strains of the pathogen show very different sensitivities to particular fungicides, underlining the need for control measures to be tested across a broad range of strains of the pathogen.
Throughout the project we and our project partners have been actively involving stakeholders. For example, we participated in the design of the ‘CALEDON’ computer game, which illustrates the challenge for the forest manager in maintaining a healthy forest, and we have helped provide visitors with the opportunity to play this game at several nature and science events.
Forest Research and the University of Edinburgh have been part of a new BBSRC contract coordinated by the University of Oxford called ‘Sitka Spruced’.
The project aims to investigate the potential for genomic breeding in Sitka spruce (Picea Sitchensis, the main tree species grown for timber production in Britain). This involves the selection of trees based on aspects of their DNA that are well correlated with important physical characteristics for timber production. The advantage of this approach is that the DNA of a tree can be investigated as soon as there is a seed, and trees can then be selected for breeding or to support plant production many years earlier than at present.
However, first we have to determine if there is a correlation between the trees’ physical characteristics and aspects of their DNA. To do this, Forest Research searched its database of genetic trials to find an existing mid-rotation experiment of the right pedigree mix replicated on at least two forest sites. Then, during summer 2017, nearly 700 trees in Brecon Forest (Wales) and another 700 in the replicated trials in West Argyll (Scotland) were felled.
Each tree was measured for growth characteristics on site before being cut into sections to provide wood samples for detailed analysis back in the laboratories of Forest Research’s Northern Research Station. DNA was also collected from each tree and the University of Oxford team will be responsible for seeking out the specific markers in each sample before the University of Edinburgh determines how these markers may be used in future selections for desirable characteristics.
Interest in natural flood management and the potential for woodland creation to reduce flood risk continues to grow across the UK. This year Forest Research was asked by the Northern Ireland Forest Service to build on its previous ‘opportunity mapping’ work that used GIS spatial datasets to identify priority areas for woodland creation to benefit flood risk management in the country.
The objective of the latest study was to quantify the hydrological effects of woodland planting opportunities in the Camowen and Drumragh catchments which drain to Omagh. The town has a history of significant flooding, with 11 notable events in the past 60 years. The flood of November 2015 was particularly severe, causing serious damage to residential property and businesses in the town centre and disruption to travel due to bridge closures.
Almost 9,000 hectares of land have been identified in the two catchments as a priority area for potential woodland creation to reduce flood risk in the town. A rainfall–runoff model was developed and applied to assess the impact of different woodland creation scenarios that vary the amount and placement of planting. Results suggest that woodland creation could have a marked effect on downstream flooding by delaying and reducing peak flows. The modelling method provides a potentially powerful tool for evaluating the impact of land-use change on flood runoff, including identifying target areas where such measures could be most effective.
The findings of this work add to a growing body of research demonstrating that woodland creation and management can have an important role to play in helping to manage flood risks for impacted communities.
As part of its work on climate change, Forest Research is collaborating with ClimateXChange, a Scottish Government-funded centre of expertise involving Scotland’s leading research providers, sector stakeholders and policy teams. ClimateXChange brings these stakeholders together to help ensure that policies are informed by the best available evidence, to support the Scottish Government’s aims to adapt to the changing climate and make the transition to a low carbon economy. Forest Research’s contribution aims to support forestry in becoming more resilient to climate change and to deliver Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
Our work for ClimateXChange in 2017–18 has covered a range of climate change topics that examine aspects of both mitigation and adaptation in forestry. During the year we have worked with other ClimateXChange collaborators, particularly from the James Hutton Institute (JHI), on three evidence reviews on the potential benefits of agroforestry in a changing climate, on comparison of peatland restoration methods, and on carbon and greenhouse gas impacts of afforestation and replanting on peaty soils.
Working with JHI and University of Aberdeen researchers we also carried out an analysis on the potential changes in carbon stocks from afforestation scenarios in Scotland, combining expertise on soil carbon and forest stand growth modelling with land-use data. We provided briefings on the importance of contingency planning as an adaptation measure for forestry, on the impact of climate change across the forestry supply chain, and on what the forestry sector could learn from risk management in the finance sector to help with adaptation decisions.
These analyses and reviews have been developed in close discussion with Forestry Commission Scotland policy advisors and those from other public sector organisations, to inform their work and policy discussions and, where appropriate, have been widely disseminated through the ClimateXChange website.