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

Project Lead: Rehema White
We have commissioned a project to review and further develop the PHC’s Communications Strategy to help develop further networks and collaborations, while building on existing relationships to improve knowledge flows in relation to plant health across Scotland. This project will draw on and align with previous and ongoing PHC research projects and will address:

1. What is the overall goal and vision for PHC and how do we articulate this for different groups and sectors?
2. What do we want to communicate, when and to whom?
3. How do we want to communicate to different audiences and for these different purposes?
4. How do we optimise budget and human resource in communicating about plant health?

Impact: The outcome of this project will be a Communication Strategy outlining the goal of communication, roles and responsibilities and a process, including an annual cycle of reflection to permit update or modification on a regular basis and linking to the communication matrix.
Project Lead: Stephen Hendry
Concerns over the condition of alder in the north of Scotland were raised in 2019 and PHC compiled a project call to determine the cause, scale and consequences of the potential progressive Alder decline. This project was put on hold over winter 2019 and was due to commence at the start of May 2020 when the season was conducive for field sampling, however, due to continuing COVID restrictions, no site visits were possible.

Therefore, a small desk study was undertaken by Forest Research to provide a firmer evidence base and begin to identify the nature and scale of alder health problems in Scotland. A request to Scottish Forestry’s Tree Health team for information of sites at which alders are currently displaying symptoms of poor health identified 15 sites. The symptoms displayed at these sites differed widely and are a strong indication of different agents being associated with the decline of alders at different sites. Collation of the data for these sites is now complete and provides a firm basis upon which to carry out targeted field visits when fieldwork becomes feasible. Discussions are underway between experts at FR, RBGE, Hutton, and NatureScot to consider options for fulfilling the objectives of the original project call.
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:
To maximise the impact of the work of the Centre, we need to be effective at the production, exchange and implementation of plant health knowledge across the four plant sectors, forestry, horticulture, environment and agriculture. To this end we have had a Stakeholder Engagement Strategy developed (PHC2020/02). This project, that runs for a 12-month duration, will implement this strategy. The aims of the project are to conduct further research on plant health knowledge flows, develop the Centre’s relationship with plant health stakeholders, foster a more dominant social media narrative for the Centre and lead the translation and distribution of knowledge to plant health practitioners, liaising closely with SEFARI Gateway.

Impact: Keep plant health and biosecurity at the forefront of our stakeholders’ minds, and a high priority for them, raising stakeholder awareness about the risks from plant pests and pathogens and the solutions available for their management and control, and raising the profile of the Plant Health Centre and our online resources.
Project Lead: Katrina Dainton
Birch is an important component of Scotland’s broadleaved woodlands and as individual trees in Scottish landscapes – with high aesthetic and biodiversity associated values as well as a range of uses for the wood. Birch, because of pioneering qualities and rapid early growth, is often favoured by woodland managers in native woodland reforestation, and because it copes with exposure and poor site conditions, can provide shelter for domestic animals in many upland farming regions. The Bronze Birch Borer (BBB) is not present in the UK but is regarded as high risk (UK Pest Risk Register) and represent a serious threat to Scotland’s broadleaved trees, woods and forests. The relative importance of birch to Scottish growers and landscapes suggests a stronger sensitivity to the threat of BBB than generally across the UK; characterization of the BBB threat is poor, e.g. compared to Emerald Ash Borer, a related pest.

This project is being conducted on behalf of the Plant Heath Centre, Scottish Forestry and NatureScot and aims to better characterise the threat of BBB to Scotland.

Impact: Draw together available evidence and, where feasible, gather new evidence relating to the threat of Bronze Birch Borer to Scotland; and provide information to inform contingency plans and make recommendations for further work to refine the evidence.
Project Lead: Elliot Meador
Pesticide use remains an important tool in managing pest, weed and disease risks to crops and maintaining profitable production. There are several drivers, including pesticide withdrawals and the biodiversity and climate crises, for reducing reliance on pesticides and promoting the uptake of more sustainable practices through Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This project looks to understand where growers and agronomists currently gather information to form their impression of pest and disease risk and inform their decision making on the need for interventions, pesticide or otherwise. It will interrogate whether perceived risk and pesticide application made match the actual risk to crops.

Impact: Identify accurate, efficient and trusted sources and test whether these sources are influential in appropriate usage of control options across key arable regions and crop types, plus intervention tools or methods that might be needed to manipulate or change how information flows; bespoke to the needs of the Scottish stakeholder network.
Project Lead: Daniel Chapman
Xylella fastidiosa is a bacterial plant pathogen that can cause disease in a broad range of hosts. 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 (or UK), an outbreak would have serious impacts on any host plant-related activities/businesses and the wider environment. To understand the risk posed to Scotland’s plants from Xylella, and to be adequately prepared if it is detected, there are important knowledge gaps that must be addressed. This project will build on the results of the previous PHC Xylella projects (PHC2018 / 04 /05 / 06) to further refine Scottish Government’s contingency and preparedness measures for the possible arrival of Xylella fastidiosa.

Impact: Deliver recommendations as to the suitability of vector trapping methods and eradication strategies, if deployed in Scotland.
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.

Publications

Forestry, Environment | Policy Document

Assessment of suitability for EAB invasion for Scotland and the UK

June 2021

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) has become a significant threat to ash trees in several countries (including USA and Russia) but is not yet present in the UK. We quantified climate and ecological factors affecting EAB suitability using native range data and conclude that southern England is a highly suitable habitat for EAB. Although currently less favourable, we project that Scotland will become increasingly suitable for EAB under climate change. Thus, EAB could threaten Scotland via trade with areas where it is present or, through spread from populations if established in England or Western Europe. Rapid spread of EAB has been observed in its US invasion. We therefore recommend further study and vigilance against EAB introductions into the UK.

Forestry, Horticulture, Environment | Final Report and Policy Document

Metabarcoding analysis of Phytophthora diversity in spore traps and implications for disease forecasting in the P. ramorum management zone

May 2021

Surveillance and monitoring of airborne pathogens is a key tool in the management of healthy forests and controlling disease outbreaks. A Scottish Forestry-funded project was carried out in autumn 2019 to validate different spore-trapping techniques for monitoring airborne P. ramorum inoculum using a species-specific qPCR assay. This project aimed to add further value to the Scottish Forestry project by investigating the suitability of DNA metabarcoding for screening spore trap samples for P. ramorum and other Phytophthora species, seeking early data for aerially dispersed Phytophthora species that may become problematic in UK forests. The study highlighted the value of both monitoring P. ramorum dispersal and detecting other Phytophthora species, to predict and understand changes in disease severity in UK tree host species. Recommendations included that the use of both rain and wind-borne inoculum capture methods might be advantageous due to the variety of weather conditions under which inoculum can disperse.  Lineage testing in Southwest Scotland should be carried out to look at the prevalence of lineage EU1 in the EU2 area and to monitor for presence of North American lineages. Development of a new DNA barcode more specific to Phytophthora would be beneficial.

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

PHC2020/09: Economic Impact of Pesticide Withdrawals to Scotland, with Case Studies

March 2021

Chemical forms of plant protection are widely used in Scottish agricultural, horticultural and forestry production plus for amenity and natural environment management purposes.  The availability and use of active substances in pesticides are closely regulated and increasing concern over human health and environmental impacts has led to a greater likelihood that some existing approvals will be withdrawn and/or that approvals for new products will not be granted.  Potential impacts from withdrawal of these pesticides are of policy interest and this summary report builds on the data and results from project PHC2018/15 (Potential impacts arising from pesticide withdrawals to Scotland’s plant health) and uses case studies to understand the likely magnitude and distribution of potential impacts and how they may be mitigated. 

PHC2018/15: Potential Impacts Arising from Pesticide Withdrawals to Scotland’s Plant Health

November 2020

The use of pesticides to manage plant pests and diseases is a key management intervention across plant health sectors, particularly in agriculture, horticulture and commercial forestry production. Pesticide withdrawals through legislation, coupled with resistance development and their impact on plant health, have emerged as key concerns for Scottish plant health stakeholders.  This project quantifies the impacts on Scottish plant health that will arise from pesticide withdrawal scenarios and sets this in the context and time frame of alternative management tools. 

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. 

Expansion of PHC Online Plant Health Resources

May 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.

 

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.