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10.30 – 13.00, Tuesday 20th February 2024 (via Microsoft Teams)

Meeting chair: David Slawson (DS), Imperial College London

Microsoft Teams Organiser: Lucy Turner (LT), Forest Research, Alice Holt

Decisions and actions

THCSN Business

Actions/matters arising from February 2023 meeting

All actions were either discharged or were included on the agenda, except: Action 2 (Jake Morris).  The action to restore the link from the Defra Plant Health portal’s citizen science page to the THCSN webpage has been completed.

Website/Webpage

Tom Jenkins (Forest Research Wales) reported that visits to the THCSN website have reduced to 80 visitors (38 unique users) a month (down from around 900 in July 2023).  Of significance is that the Tree Health Citizen Science Learning Pathway is the most popular page accessed (31 visits).

JISCMail

Michael Pocock reported that there are 56 subscribers to the JISCMail group which continues to be the main channel for communication within the Network.  Michael also confirmed that people are able to manage their own membership to JISCMail

Research/project summaries

Although deciding previously that a brief summary of members’ research projects would be interesting and informative to other members and to the wider community, only two research summaries have been produced. The consensus was that the likely benefit of a summary was insufficient to justify time taken to prepare it. 

Instead, it was thought more efficient for members to include their research in their biogs on the website. In addition, a suggestion was made to post regular (one a month) news items on to website to publicise tree health citizen science.

Decision 1: Members’ research interests/projects will be included in their biogs and not in separate research summaries.

Action 1: All members, who have not already done so, to send biogs (name, affiliation, photograph and either a short summary of research interests/projects or a link to such information) to Lucy Turner to post on the website. Those who have written biogs are encouraged to add a sentence or two on any active research and provide appropriate web links. (Note: currently there are only 14 biogs on the website).

Action 2: DS to start writing short news items for the website – all members are welcome to suggest/draft items too.

Future meetings

The next meeting will be held on Tuesday 2nd July 2024 at Forest Research, Alice Holt and via MS Teams.

Research

CEH Research (Michael Pocock, CEH)

Michael’s summary included information on:

Branching out – UK Treescapes (Alison Dyke, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York)

Alison presented an update of the Branching Out Project, which is developing new ways of mapping the social and cultural value of trees to inform policy decisions regarding urban treescapes in the UK

Innovative communication practices e.g. use artists and authors was adopted by the European Alien Species Information Network to raise awareness of invasive species, including in forests. 

Priority actions update

Tree health citizen science ‘learning pathway’ (DS)

Two actions from the previous meeting had not been progressed: Action 9 (A9) Jake Morris:  to approach Defra to publicise the Pathway and Action 8 (A8) DS to arrange regular review of the ‘learning pathway’, including seeking updates from members.

A brief discussion was held on use or non-use of the Tree health citizen science pathway.

  • Those involved in government agencies were of the view that the pathway was of little relevance to their official surveillance and operations work but was of use to their public-facing work e.g. public engagement, raising awareness and education 
  • Janice Ansine indicated that Open University could promote the pathway in their engagement work
  • Generally, the pathway was considered to have the greatest value to third sector organisations including those that run teams of volunteers.  Woodland Trust tend to intuitively follow this kind of pathway of increasing knowledge and specialisation in the topics they offer along website journeys e.g. The Guide to British Trees: ID and Facts – Woodland Trust , Tree Pests and Diseases – Woodland Trust and Nature’s calendar.
  • Defra are considering doing something with the pathway in Plant Health Week in May

Action 3: DS to arrange regular review of the ‘learning pathway’, including seeking updates from members.

Enhance the tree health surveillance network (Mercy Morris and DS)

UK Garden Sentinel Network (UK GSN)

Mercy Morris gave an update on significant progress made since the meeting on the development of a UK Garden Sentinel Network, including:

  • An MOU between Observatree, PlantNetwork and Botanic Garden Conservation International has been approved and signed (January 2024)
  • A Steering Group is in the process of being set-up to guide future development work
  • PlantNetwork is hosting a webinar (open to all) to introduce the UK GSN and TreeAlert; 15.00 – 16.30 on Tuesday 9 April 2024
  • A pilot survey for the new UK GSN is planned for Plant Health week; a candidate pest or disease is under consideration

Others

DS reported that initial exchanges have occurred between THCSN and Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI). BSBI members are skilled observers, identifiers and recorders of plant species who have expressed an interest in playing a more active role in monitoring tree/plant pests and diseases in the future, starting perhaps by using TreeAlert.

Action 4: DS to continue on behalf of THCSN to facilitate enhancement of the tree health surveillance network, including UK GSN, BSBI and others.

Policy

UK Plant Risk Register: review and additions (Charles Lane, Fera)

Charles described the UK Plant Risk Register and explained the process involved in adding new plant pests and diseases to the Register along with consideration for their suitability to be included in Observatree’s priority pest and disease list.

Pest and diseases considered for inclusion on the list included:

  • Pucciniastrum americanum – Needle rust of spruce
  • Pochazia shantungensis – Brown winged cicada affecting orchard and soft fruit
  • Orgyia leucostigma – White-marked tussock moth; polyphagous
  • Anoplophora horsfieldii – Chinaberry yellow banded long-horned beetle, affecting broadleaf trees
  • Cephalcia arvensis – Spruce web-spinning sawfly affecting Abies, Picea and Fagus

None met the criteria for inclusion and Observatree’s priority pest and disease list will remain as it is (pending agreement with the Partners).

Defra update

Jake Morris and Steph Godliman (Defra Plant Health) were unable to join the meeting as they were engaged on a tree planting day.  They did kindly provide the following update:

  • A General Election will be held in 2024 which will have an effect on all policy developments
  • The GB Plant Biosecurity Strategy is now in its implementation stage.  Actions are being tracked through the Plant Health Programme Board and are reported to the National Plant Protection Officer.  Defra will periodically seek updates from key stakeholders whose actions are included in the strategy. Good progress has been made on commitments in the Strategy, in particular:
  • Defra Plant Health Research and Development plan published Plant health research and development plan (2023 to 2028) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) 5-year International Action Plan United Kingdom international action plan for plant health – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
  • The fourth National Plant Health Week is on 6-12th May 2024. Ideas are currently being sought and scoped – ideas and inputs are welcome from THCSN.

Action 5: All members to submit to Defra any ideas or relevant activities that they have planned for Plant Health Week

  • The Plant Health Action website (used by signatories of the Plant Health Accord) is being updated. Organisations represented on the THCSN are welcome to join the Accord if they commit to support public engagement in plant health
  • The 2018 Tree Health Resilience Strategy is being revised and will be integrated with the Woodland Resilience Implementation Plan; the aim is to publish it later this year

Forest Research and sharing tree health data (Sonia Desai, Forest Research)

Sonia reported on Forest Research’s exciting new project to explore the possibility to share tree health data with interested parties.

Background:

  • For more than 60 years, tree health scientists at Forest Research have diagnosed thousands of tree health enquiries submitted by members of the public from across Britain
  • For the last ten years, TreeAlert has been the mechanism to submit these enquiries.  TreeAlert has been redeveloped in 2023 and it is now easier to use on mobile devices. In addition to submitting information of tree pests or diseases, registered TreeAlert users can now help us to record healthy-looking trees
  • Going forward, Forest Research would like to share these data because they believe that information on the distribution of tree pests and diseases across Britain would be of interest to many groups and individuals.

What’s happened:

  • To help FR understand who would find tree health data useful and the preferred methods of interacting with it, the held three stakeholder workshops in January.
  • These were two-hour workshops which introduced TreeAlert and the existing data to participants and explored who might have an interest in the data and how it would be of use to them
  • Regional authorities and landowners were identified as two groups with an interest; they are interested in the data to inform decisions on surveillance and management; they have the technical capability to receive an export of the data which they can search, filter and use for mapping purposes. 
  • A dashboard could be provided to TreeAlert to provide simpler visualisations of the data for less expert audiences. 

Discussion: various comments were made including:

  • Researchers and scientists should also have technical skills to handle data exports for use in their research
  • Data export to the NBN Trust and its Atlases should be explored as the most cost-effective way to make the data more accessible to the public and the wider biological recording community
  • DS reminded participants that Dr Erin Roger (CSIRO Australia) made a presentation on of The Atlas of Living Australia’s biosecurity hub to our last meeting and suggested that Sonia might consider speaking with Erin to hear more about the system in Australia

Action A6: DS on behalf of THCSN to continue to facilitate exploration of greater sharing/accessibility of tree health data from all sources.

Observatree and TreeAlert (Lucy Turner and Matt Parratt)

Lucy detailed recent changes to the TreeAlert reporting system including: a new feature on diagnosis feedback, a report dashboard of TreeAlert records and work on development of a new open data interface.

Matt described the process to train and keep volunteers motivated, including: a programme of winter webinars, regional summer training days – it was exciting to see that RHS Harlow Carr will host the Yorkshire and North-East training day in 2024; and mentoring/science days. It was also reported that that over 20,000 reports have been submitted by Observatree volunteers in the 10 years that the project has been running.

27 February 2024

Dr David Slawson,

Coordinator THCSN

APPENDIX 1 Attendees

AlisonDykeSEI, University of York
CharlesLaneFera
ChrisMalumphyFera
DavidSlawsonImperial College London/Observatree volunteer
JaneBarbrookAPHA
JaniceAnsineOpen University
KateLewthwaiteWoodland Trust
MattParrattObservatree, Forest Research
NicolaCummingsNorthern Ireland Government
LucyTurnerForest Research
MercyMorrisPlantNetwork
MichaelPocockCEH
PeterCrowObservatree, Forest Research
RuthChittyRHD
SoniaDesaiForest Research
TomJenkinsForest Research Wales

Apologies

AndyGordonObservatree volunteer
AndyMoffatAJ Moffat & Associates
CarolynRiddellForest Research
DebbieHardingBBSRC
GabrieleWarwickCoventry University
JakeMorrisDefra
LizTrenchardCoventry University
SamanthaGreenCoventry University
StephGodlimanDefra
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