Jun 14 2019

Observatree Training in Wales – 7 June 2019

Observatree Training in Wales – 7 June 2019

What is Observatree?

Observatree is an award winning collaborative project between Forest Research, Forestry England, Scottish Forestry, APHA, Defra, Fera Science Ltd, the National Trust, Natural Resources Wales and the Woodland Trust. Using citizen science the project aims to help spot new pest and disease threats to UK trees.

As volunteer development officer for Wales, I was lucky enough to attend the recent training for our tree health champion volunteers in Wales.


What does a training day entail?

After a rather grey and wet visit to the M4, I arrived at Tredegar House Newport for a much warmer welcome; coffee and shortbread in the old brewhouse on this National Trust estate. Feeling much refreshed we were led through a practical indoor session on conifer ID by Suzy Sancisi-Frey from Forest Research. Everyone confessed that they felt this was an area of ID weakness which we were very glad to have Suzy’s expert and patient guidance on, including a very accurate and easy to use key.



Charlotte Armitage, the Woodland Trust lead on the project, gave us all an update on how the project is progressing: 13 of the 22 priority pests and diseases are now found in the UK. Ash dieback is now considered to be here to stay and reaches the majority of Wales, so although new reports of it’s spread are useful, the fungus is so far gone that we cannot do much to contain it.


Charlotte outlined how the volunteers should set about their volunteering. The guidelines are for each volunteer to aim for 12 surveys a year – on average one a month. They can also visit sentinel trees; trees they visit regularly to monitor their condition.


Suzy also updated the volunteers on some of the 22 pests and diseases the project focuses on. One in particular, which has arrived in the UK but not yet Wales, is Oak Processionary Moth (OPM). This moth lays its eggs on oak trees and the caterpillar hatch in mid-Summer then proceed to eat the leaves of the oak. The caterpillars can be seen in large groups or processions and create white nest on the trunk of the tree to protect themselves. These larvae have become widespread in London where they not only cause problems to the oak trees – the small hairs on their backs can be harmful to the eyes, skin and lungs of humans and animals. For this reason, we were advised not to approach or attempt to deal with suspected OPM ourselves. If spotted in time, trained professionals can come and remove the nest of caterpillars to contain the spread of this pest. It is hoped that the outbreak can be contained to the London area if we are vigilant in spotting new outbreaks.


For more detail on OPM see the Observatree Website.


I personally was glad to break for lunch after all the talk of irritant moth hairs!


After an excellent buffet lunch provided by the National Trust, we ventured out in to the gradually abating drizzle. Sam Milner from NRW went through the importance of biosecurity in containing the spread of pests and diseases. Simple measures such as scrubbing boots before leaving each woodland site help limit the spread of these organisms. Volunteers are provided with kit to allow them to keep boots clean.


Sam also took us out to see some trees and to discuss how to complete and submit a survey form. A general survey would allow the volunteer to observe all trees along their route – following the paths is easiest! Visual signs of possible disease may include missing or discoloured leaves, dropping or bleeding branches, a split trunk or insect exit holes. We also discussed the importance of good photos to accompany the survey form – photos showing the surrounding of the tree and close up of the suspected symptoms spotted.


How can I get involved?

If this project appeals to you, you can get involved. The Observatree website is a rich source of information on tree pests and diseases. If you think you have spotted a tree pest or disease of concern, and have double checked signs and symptoms, then report it as quickly as possible via Tree Alert. To do this as accurately as possible, please use this checklist to ensure you capture key information before submitting your report.


You can become a volunteer. Charlotte spends the summer training her volunteers, but recruitment for the volunteer roles will start again next Spring – depending on volunteer levels in different regions across the UK. So look out for the volunteer role being advertised on our website.


Martha Boalch

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