Sep 17 2020

A day in the life of a Woodland Trust Observatree Volunteer

Observatree is a project that aims to protect the UK’s precious trees from new pests and diseases – either arriving or spreading across the country.  Working closely with experts in Forest Research and other government agencies, its team of volunteer Tree Health Surveyors are on the look-out for these nasties across Great Britain because the earlier they are spotted, the higher the chances that outbreaks can be eliminated or controlled.  Working as a volunteer in the Scottish Highlands, I feel like a double lottery winner.  Working on something I am passionate about – trees, and at the same time visiting some breath-takingly beautiful woods and landscapes.  Also, as Observatree’s Lead Volunteer in Scotland, I get the chance not only to meet (‘virtually’, of course, in the current situation) and support my fellow tree health surveyors with their monitoring work but also develop new friendships with great people who share a passion for the environment.


Visiting Woodland Trust’s Ledmore and Migdale wood on the Dornoch Firth in August provides a snapshot of our work.  The Trust’s local Woodland Conservation Manager, Ross Watson, had asked me to have a look at ash trees in the wood to check for Chalara ash dieback – a fungal disease that has ravaged ash trees across the country.  With an eye to value-for -money, Observatree’s volunteer manager, Rebecca Gosling always encourages us to multi-task on our visits by looking out for other priority pests and diseases.  On this occasion, I was on the look-out for Chalara ash dieback on the journey to and from the wood.  To help manage the disease, Forestry Commission operate a national outbreak map plotting the disease’s presence in 10 km grid squares in the country .  Currently, there is a need for more accurate information on the disease’s distribution in Scotland as many squares appear ‘disease-free’.


The day proved a great success:

  • Sadly, Chalara was confirmed in and around Ledmore and Migdale Wood but at least Woodland Trust now know its present and can manage it.
  • In total, Chalara was found in four new 10km grid squares.
  • Dothistroma red-band needle blight, a fungal disease of pine trees, was also suspected. Experts at Forest Research are reviewing photographs and a report submitted via the TreeAlert portal
  • On the bright side, horse-chestnut trees in the area were confirmed to be free from horse-chestnut leaf mining moth, which has ravaged trees further south in Britain.
  • Also, I go to see some wonderful wildlife, including a slow-worm, experienced landscapes to match anywhere in the world and got to use that Woodland Trust mug.


David Slawson, Lead Volunteer in Scotland.


Here are some of David’s photos from the day:


Woodland walk



Suspected dothistroma

Sunbathing slow worm


Dornoch Firth

A welcome cuppa!

Chalara typical stem lesion

Chalara leaf symptoms

Chalara lesion




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