Environment

Scotland has a remarkable assemblage of species and habitats with Atlantic, montane, boreal, arctic-alpine, and oceanic habitats in close proximity.  However, pests and pathogens represent an increasing threat to these natural assets, and a particular challenge is the sheer complexity of the diversity of the natural environment in terms of the number of species that may be impacted.

Scotland is internationally important for its resources of blanket bog, heather moorland, Atlantic rainforests, montane native woodland (e.g. Caledonian Pine forests) and high nature value farmland (e.g. machair). These habitat types represent a major tourism draw to Scotland as well as being of significant value for biodiversity and ecosystem service provision.  Increasing global trade is, however,  resulting in native species encountering novel pests and pathogens, and in addition, changing climatic conditions can increase susceptibility of species in the natural environment to endemic plant health threats.

Access our resource bank on plant health issues for the natural environment here.

 

Projects

Early scoping of plant health priorities with key Scottish stakeholders and discussions at the PHC launch event indicate a complex landscape of plant health information sources, confusion amongst stakeholders and a perception of information overload. To inform future KE methods and priorities, a network analysis is required to identify the sources of information and the strength of their effect on Scottish stakeholder communities.

Impact: Improved understanding of concepts and options amongst the Scottish stakeholder community; a basis for gap analysis by the PHC.
Project Lead: Steve Woodward
Discussions at the PHC launch event, and between sector leads, indicate some distinctive and different approaches to tackling pests and diseases in Scotland are to be found across sectors and between businesses/units. Some focus on direct interventions (e.g. use of chemicals), whilst others have largely considered indirect interventions (e.g. manipulation of age structures), and understanding of integrated approaches is patchy. There is an opportunity to gather together a guide to the different approaches – which could propose a typology and set of definitions of solutions that could be used by subsequent PHC communications; provide a basis for cross-sectoral dialogue; provide a basic mapping of how the solutions are currently used by sector; and help identify untested combinations of solution and setting which could be developed.

Impact: Improved understanding of concepts and options amongst stakeholder community in Scotland; a basis for gap analysis by PHC.
Project Lead: Sebastian Raubach
Plant health is a major issue worldwide with many different pests and diseases threatening different plant-based sectors, e.g. forestry, agriculture, environment and horticulture. Keeping up to date with such threats has always been a major task in terms of pest and disease identification, geographic spread, monitoring and coordinating responses etc. yet, in the world of mobile technology, we now have an opportunity to achieve some of these things from apps on our phones. Questions around the use of such technology include: What options are available in terms of mobile technologies for plant health?; What is their primary purpose?; Who are they targeted towards - farmers, plant health professionals, citizen scientists etc? Are they accurate and reliable? Do they provide real time information to a central database?; Who uses such a database?; Which sectors are they designed to work in or are they cross sector?; Do they have global use or are they limited to certain geographic regions? A review of such technologies is needed to ascertain which are most appropriate for use in Scotland across a range of sectors, which could be further adapted to achieve this aim and, if further development is required, what are the key elements of such a technology that would need to be incorporated into such a mobile application?

Impact: Improved risk assessment; better equipped stakeholders and government plant health officials; improved coordination of plant health activities in Scotland.
Xylella fastidiosa is a bacterial plant pathogen that can cause disease in a broad range of hosts. Disease symptoms include leaf scorch, wilting of foliage, dieback and plant death. Xylella fastidiosa was first detected in Europe in 2013 in Puglia in Italy and was identified as subspecies pauca which has gone on to devastate olive plantations in this region. There are currently major Xylella outbreaks in Southern France, including Corsica, Italy, mainland Spain and the Balearic Islands.

Although Xylella has so far not been detected in Scotland, an outbreak would have serious impacts on any host plant-related activities/businesses and the wider environment. An essential aspect of ensuring Scotland’s preparedness for the possible arrival of Xylella is to prepare a risk map for the likelihood of the arrival of Xylella together with the consequences for key elements of the Scottish economy (directly and indirectly impacted) in the event of an outbreak. Data relevant to the risk mapping for Scotland would include location of sites involved in plant imports, volume of plants imported, impact on business trading in plants if an outbreak is detected and the wider environmental impact.

Impact: This project will contribute to Scottish Government’s contingency and preparedness measures for the possible arrival of Xylella fastidiosa by mapping the risk of likelihood and impact of an outbreak.
Project Lead: Kirsty Park
Xylella fastidiosa is a bacterial plant pathogen that can cause disease in a broad range of hosts, including Polygala myrtifolia, Olea europaea, Rosmarinus Officinalis, Lavandula sp., Prunus sp. and Nerium oleander. Disease symptoms include leaf scorch, wilting of foliage, dieback and plant death. Xylella fastidiosa was first detected in Europe in 2013 in Puglia in Italy and was identified as subspecies pauca which has gone on to devastate olive plantations in this region. There are currently major Xylella outbreaks in Southern France, including Corsica, Italy, mainland Spain and the Balearic Islands. The bacteria are transmitted by xylem feeding insects from the Cercopidae family, which include froghoppers and spittlebugs.

There are several species of insects that could vector Xylella fastidiosa in the UK including the meadow spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius), which is very common in Scotland. An outbreak of Xylella in Scotland would have serious impacts on the affected grower/nursery and any other host plant-related activities/business within a 5km buffer zone. Therefore, in order to establish the potential for these bacteria to spread, should they be introduced, it is important to identify and get an understanding of the abundance of potential Xylella vectors in Scotland. The WrEN project (http://www.wrenproject.com/), presents a unique opportunity to make use of existing insect collections to map the occurrence of potential Xylella vectors within agricultural woodlands across Scotland. Since 2013, partners on the WrEN project have surveyed over 130 secondary and ancient woodland sites for habitat and wildlife in two regions of mainland Britain. To date, over 1100 species have been recorded from a wide range of taxa. Vegetation structure has been characterised at all sites including information on tree species richness, tree density and size, understorey and canopy cover. In addition, the surrounding landscape has been mapped at a range of spatial scales up to 3 km from each site.

Impact: This project will contribute to Scottish Government’s preparedness measures for the possible
arrival of Xylella fastidiosa by identifying and mapping the distribution of potential vectors of Xylella
in Scotland.

Publications

Expansion of PHC Online Plant Health Resources

July 2020

This project has expanded the PHC online Resource Bank for plant health threats to the Natural Environment sector in Scotland to include information sources for the remaining three sectors (Forestry, Agriculture and Horticulture). Information sources for Forestry, Agriculture and Horticulture were compiled and evaluated, and a Knowledge Bank relevant to each sector is now online at the PHC website, creating a comprehensive and unique signposting resource for plant health information with relevance to Scotland.

 

Impact of climate change on the spread of pests and diseases in Scotland

June 2020

This project constructed a modelling framework which combined epidemiological and economic modelling.  The modelling framework was used to study predictions of spread and economic impact of pests which are not currently in the UK, including Xylella fastidiosa, Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum (Zebra chip) and Ips typographus (Eight toothed Spruce Bark Beetle). 

Impact:  A web/desktop application is available to the PHC and Scottish Government to analyse the effects of climate change on the spread and economic impact of new threats. 

Forestry, Environment | PHC Pest Review

Threat: Bud worm

Authors: Chris Quine
October 2019

Status, Scottish specific issues, Plant Health Centre perspective and Key priorities and recommendations concerning the threat from the Eastern spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana), Western spruce budworm (C. freeman) and  Black headed budworm (Acleris gloverana and A. variana) to Scotland

Forestry, Environment | Final Report and Policy Document

Development of an online, user friendly plant health resource bank for the Scottish Natural Environment

August 2019

The aim of the project PHC2018/11 was to compile a resource to be embedded within the Scottish Plant Health Centre (PHC) website, with the following three main purposes: 1) To direct users to existing, comprehensive and reliable plant health information resources; 2) To provide information on selected plant health threats to the natural environment, particularly invasive non-native species; and 3) To direct users to appropriate government agencies and resources and advise users on steps to take should a suspected statutory pest or disease be encountered.

Webpages have been developed which provide the following:

1) a listing of the first most pressing plant health threats to the natural environment in Scotland;

2) a user-friendly web template, populated with links to information about these major threats and other topics relevant to plant health in the Scottish natural environment; and

3) summary pages providing guidance on biosecurity and control of diseases in this sector, for which other resources were not easily available.

Forestry, Horticulture, Agriculture, Environment | Final Report and Policy Document

The use of mobile technology to enhance plant health monitoring and awareness in Scotland

August 2019

The aim of the project was to review existing websites and smartphone apps currently available and applied in the plant health sector and to assemble a detailed overview covering the following points:

  • What options are available in terms of mobile software applications for plant health?
  • What is their primary purpose?
  • Who is the target audience (growers, plant health professionals, citizen science, …)?
  • Which plant health sectors do they cover?
  • Are they reliable and accurate?
  • Is information submitted to a central database? If so, how is this information used?
  • Could they be used globally, or are they limited to certain geographic regions?

Difficult choices to protect gardens and the environment

Authors: Katy Hayden
September 2018

Heritage gardens play an important role in plant conservation. They house collections gathered over decades or even hundreds of years, including varieties of plants that may be overlooked elsewhere, fostering heirloom varieties and preserving biological diversity that is the raw material of adaptation. As well as being beautiful and tranquil sites of cultural heritage, these ex-situ resources are treasure troves of biological diversity. Arduaine Gardens shows us that tough choices can be necessary and important to preserve these collections and the surrounding environment.