Matt Elliot

Plant Health & Biosecurity Scientist
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh


Project Lead: Matt Elliot
The Plant Health Centre was commissioned by the Scottish Government to review evidence relating to the potential of new gene editing technologies to address plant health issues in Scotland, with potential benefits, barriers to deployment and dis-benefits noted
Project Lead: Stephen Hendry
Originally raised as a plant health issue of potential concern, the health of Alder trees in Scotland was initially investigated in project PHC2019/09: Health status of Alder in Scotland. This preliminary study found that there could be a legitimate concern over Alder that may have complex causes (several biotic and abiotic stresses were noted), and the timeline of these health issues (gradual or rapid) was unclear. Further scoping and examination of the problem by established experts was recommended, leading to this project. The project will conduct:
• Expert visitation of sites to seek evidence of problems with alder health, gain some understanding as to possible causes, and identify key dimensions of a thorough study should this prove warranted. Lab work to confirm field diagnoses.
• Preliminary citizen science request inviting site-specific records of concern over alder health (potentially via the trained Observatree volunteer network to gather data), with analysis to identify any geographic clustering.
• Produce recommendations for further work including; refined survey methodologies for widespread application by interested organisations; identification of potential candidate sites for detailed study over time, and; a discussion document on risks to existing alder of expansion of riparian woodland.
Project Lead: Matt Elliot
Plant health risks associated with poor composting practice or imported carrier products as peat alternatives are not well understood. Best practice guidance to minimise the plant health risks to Scotland from these activities is needed.

This work will examine and define the extent to which current UK and Scottish regulations and voluntary schemes control the way growing medium constituents must be treated prior to their inclusion in growing media, to generate an understanding around mitigating risks of spread of plant pathogens. Workshops with stakeholders will improve understanding of current practices and perceptions of alternative ‘best practice’ options for nurseries managing waste materials and for biosecurity risks of using reduced peat and peat-free growing media. A concurrent diagnostic study will identify Phytophthora species present in waste heaps from nurseries located in Scotland and the potential for these pathogens to spread into healthy plant stock either aerially or via water run-off and soil transfer.

Findings will be combined with a comprehensive desk-based study and feed into follow-up workshops on the development and introduction of ‘best practice’ guidance on the most appropriate and safest ways to manage waste growing media and plant material, to be built into the Plant Health Management Standard.
Project Lead: Matt Elliot
Outwith the plant-based trade sectors there are aspects of biosecurity practice for which advice remains unclear or there are no commonly agreed best practices. Two broad situations needing further evidence are 1) sites which are visited by many people, and 2) moving machinery and equipment between sites. The project will address three aspects of biosecurity where evidence is lacking:

• How can important plant species in botanic collections and historic gardens be protected from inadvertent disease introduction on the footwear, etc. of visitors?
• What is the risk of further inadvertent spread from gardens into the natural environment?
• How can gardens, nurseries, farms and the natural environment be protected from pest and disease spread through the movement of large machinery (e.g., tree harvesting machines)?

Through a desk based study that incudes literature review, contact with plant health authorities, semi-structured interviews with landowners and expert practitioners from other sectors, the project will; determine what official biosecurity advice already exists and procedures are in place in Scotland; explore other sectors which provide additional novel approaches to biosecurity; and carry out a thorough assessment of what procedures are in place, or being considered and developed, in different countries/regions to address these specific biosecurity risks.