Tree health conference at Kew

Professor Nicola Spence, chief plant health officer at Defra

OPAL's Research Associate, Dr Nidhi Gupta, reports from an international conference on tree and plant health held at Kew Gardens.

"The trees, the flowers, the plants grow in silence. The stars, the sun, the moon move in silence. Silence gives us a new perspective" – Mother Teresa

Perspectives were drawn and shared at the two day Observatree and International Plant Sentinel Network (IPSN) conference on 'Tree and Plant Health Early Warning Systems in Europe' last month.

Kew GardensHosted at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, it was such a fitting venue for discussing tree and plant health issues, with a strong focus on perspectives from volunteers, scientists, policy-makers and funders.

The conference saw in attendance noted speakers from science, government, industry and NGOs, and over 150 participants coming from 22 countries, highlighting the importance and relevance of tree and plant health across the globe.

OPAL Director, Dr David Slawson

Catering to the needs of different stakeholders, the presentations (both oral and poster) were spread across four main session themes. 

The first session provided an update on different projects focused on tree and plant health early warning systems. It was very interesting to hear success stories from these endeavours, both at national and international level. 

The other sessions reflected more specifically on perspectives from different stakeholder groups: volunteers, science and policy.

Mapping tree species by remote sensing presentationA session on science perspectives showcased recent scientific advances such as use of remote sensing, isotope analysis, and sentinel plantings for combating tree and plant pest and disease outbreaks in Europe.

Sessions on volunteers and policy presented the audience with the success of different projects, including citizen science initiatives such as Observatree and OPALThese sessions were truly motivational and helped me realise the true potential of ‘public engagement with science or scientists’.

RHS presentation featuring sawfly larvaeOne of the high points for me was a video clip of one of the Observatree volunteers. Following an outbreak of Oriental Chestnut Gall Wasp in woodland in Kent, she found the second outbreak 50 miles away in St Albans!

In addition to highlighting the many successes of the project, these sessions also created awareness of the potential challenges and concerns of using a citizen science approach.

The take home message for me from the conference was that there is immense scope for different stakeholders to come together and work on tree and plant health issues. As pests and diseases know no boundaries, there is a need to work and collaborate internationally for timely action. 

Nidhi Gupta and tree health posterThe potential for using citizen science for public engagement and early detection of plant and tree pests and diseases was recognised unanimously. In this direction, our work at OPAL - delivered in the form of an oral presentation and a poster - was very well received by the audience, infusing much more enthusiasm and motivation in me to take my work forward!

Three cheers to the organisers for organising such a wonderful event and for bringing together this small, but highly motivated and specialised group of people, working on tree and plant health. It definitely provided me with the perspective that I need to chart my own academic journey ahead, through citizen science and tree health related issues.

About Nidhi's work

Dr Nidhi Gupta is a Research Associate based at OPAL/ Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London. Her project is funded by Defra and is focused on tree health and citizen science in the UK. The aim of her research is to develop a strategic plan, support mechanisms, and partnerships which enhance the contribution of citizen science to tree health protection efforts in the future.

Photo credits: Nidhi Gupta/OPAL; other images courtesy of Fera-Science Limited © Copyright Fera-Science Limited.