Ruth Mitchell

Image of Ruth mitchell
Plant Soil Ecologist
The James Hutton Institute

Ruth is a plant/soil research scientist at the James Hutton Institute with 20 years’ experience of working on a wide range of applied ecological research projects.  Her research focuses the impact of pressures such as grazing, pollution, land management and plant diseases on above and below ground biodiversity. Over the last five years Ruth and her team have developed expertise in assessing the wider ecological impacts of declines in plant health (notably ash dieback and oak decline) on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.  In particular the team identify which other species only or primarily use the plant species impacted by the disease and if the plant species which may replace the diseased species provide suitable ecological niches for the same suite of biodiversity.  Ultimately the aim has been to provide practical advice to mitigate, as far as possible, the adverse impacts of plant diseases on the wider environment.


Project Lead: Ruth Mitchell
The Natural Environment sector underpins Scotland’s landscapes, biodiversity, rural industries and recreational activities, but the growing number of plant pest and diseases pose a significant threat to this sector and the rural economy. This Fellowship aims to further our understanding of the challenges posed by plant health threats to the natural environment in Scotland in order to protect this valuable resource. The Fellow will lead on an evidence-based review of the threats to this sector to inform future policies aimed at mitigating these risks. This fellowship is based at NatureScot and supported by Scotland’s Plant Health Centre. The fellowship involves significant engagement with stakeholders other than NatureScot in the natural environment sector to promote a sector-wide understanding of plant health threats and best practice and contributing to relevant meetings as the Fellowship progresses.

Impact: This fellowship will generate an increased understanding of current and future plant health threats to the natural environment in Scotland and identify key knowledge gaps, and deliver practical steps and actions to minimise risks and negative and provide evidence-based advice to inform future policies to help safeguard this sector.
Project Lead: Katherine Hayden
Pests and diseases represent a major emerging threat to biodiversity, in part due to increased global trade, climate change, and wider habitat degradation. The potential impacts include direct threats based on pest/pathogen impacts on focal species, as well as wider secondary effects for other interacting species and communities.
Compared to threats such as climate change and habitat fragmentation, plant health issues are poorly represented in international and national biodiversity strategies such as the Aichi Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, and the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. Work is thus required to provide strategic guidance on the inclusion of plant health threats into the next iteration of the biodiversity strategies.

Impact: Direct guidance and input for plant health issues into the new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy; best-practice example of plant health integration into national biodiversity planning (model for other countries).


Environment | Final Report and Policy Document

Plant Health and the Natural Environment Fellowship

Authors: Ruth Mitchell
August 2023

The Natural Environment sector underpins Scotland’s landscapes, biodiversity, rural industries and recreational activities, but plant health awareness is less well developed than in the forestry, horticulture and agriculture sectors. The PHC funded a fellowship with NatureScot, to address this gap.