David Cooke

Plant Pathologist
The James Hutton Institute


Project Lead: David Cooke
Species of the genus Phytophthora are of particular concern to the health of Scotland’s plants due to their destructive potential and ability to spread via cryptic infection on traded plants. The genus Phytophthora currently comprises over 200 species and there is a current gap in the evidence in estimating and acting on these threats in a proportional and measured manner to both prevent further imports of Phytophthora and to objectively assess the risk of any new findings.

This project will (i) review and collate the contemporary data and evidence on Phytophthora discovery, species description and traits; (ii) use the collated data to horizon-scan and predict disease threats in Scotland and (iii) model and map the greatest threats to plants in specific key habitats. The findings will be compiled into a report on the updated risks with recommendations for enhancing preparedness through risk-based prioritisation of hosts and habitats for targeted surveillance to promote earlier detection of Phytophthora species. Although the project will consider plants in agriculture, forestry, horticulture and natural ecosystems across Scotland, the principal focus will be on the risks to relatively under-studied plant hosts in the natural environment.

This project was selected for funding from the Project Call: “Enhancing preparedness against pests and diseases: plugging evidence gaps for Scotland”.

Image credit: Glensaugh ©The James Hutton Institute
Project Lead: Mariella Marzano
The UK and Scotland have ambitious tree planting targets, with a major driver being carbon sequestration. Scotland’s Forest Strategy outlines a target of 15,000 ha per year. In addition to carbon management, other major drivers for tree planting are commercial forestry, habitat restoration and the establishment of new woodlands for biodiversity and amenity value. Scotland’s Forest Strategy outlines a target of 3,000-5,000 ha of new native woodland per year, and restoration of an additional 10,000 ha of native woodland. This involves planting a large volume of trees. There is considerable uncertainty as to where and how this volume of trees will be sourced, and associated uncertainty as to the biosecurity threats posed. The aim of this project is to improve our understanding of current biosecurity awareness and practices within the arenas of woodland creation/ expansion and habitat restoration in Scotland.

Impact: Determine the main barriers to ensuring that future planting for environmental restoration and conservation will minimise plant health risks.
Project Lead: Mariella Marzano
Large scale infra-structure projects such as transport networks and major housing projects typically include extensive landscaping and planting programmes. These operate at a large scale, often require instant visual impacts (semi-mature shrubs and trees) and face significant cost pressures. The modest scale of domestic production creates challenges in obtaining material from local sources, which can favour low-cost large-scale plant imports with associated risks of pest and disease entry. This project will fill in key knowledge gaps with those responsible for selecting, procuring and planting plants and trees on a large-scale to provide an understanding of how/whether biosecurity features in their decision-making and make recommendations for any changes required to improve bio-secure practices.

Impact: Provide Scottish Government policy with an assessment of the major biosecurity pitfalls and opportunities arising from large-scale landscaping plantings.
Project Lead: Mariella Marzano
Retail horticulture is a large-scale industry in the UK, with ornamental horticulture and landscaping worth an estimated £24.2 billion national GDP in 2017. The industry is characterised by a large volume of individual transactions and the transport of a diverse range of plant materials (with accompanying soil and packaging) to a highly distributed set of final destinations (households). These horticultural sales represent a complex and pervasive vector network, which carries the risk of transportation of pests and pathogens to surrounding parks and gardens, agricultural systems, woodlands, forests and the wider environment. The diversity of the plant material in trade and the multitude of suppliers and recipients creates a major challenge for managing biosecurity. This project will identify decision-makers, their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours relating to plant health, and assess opportunities and barriers to better plant biosecurity and the potential role of a Plant Health Assurance Scheme.

Impact: This project will enable policy to identify and prioritise plant biosecurity vulnerabilities from non-specialist and online horticultural sales.