Tree Health Collaboration at ICF National Conference

Prof Mike Wingfield IUFRO Tree Health

Prof Mike Wingfield, President of IUFRO

ICF’s 2015 National Conference took place 22-23 April at the Angel Hotel in Cardiff, attracting an audience of nearly 250 to debate the key issues on tree health, resilience and sustainability.

The conference provided a valuable opportunity for knowledge sharing on both existing pests and pathogens in the UK, such as oak processionary moth, Phytopthora ramorum of larch and ash dieback, as well as possible future threats including emerald ash borer and mountain pine beetle.

Video address from Welsh Minister for Natural Resources

The conference opened with an acknowledgement of forestry sector concerns about tree health by Carl Sargeant AM, Welsh Government Minister for Natural Resources. In a video address to delegates, the minister referred to the recent struggles in Wales with the outbreak of Phytopthora ramorum, and the importance of dealing with these outbreaks for the benefit of the environment and combating climate change. He said;

“Over the last few years, Wales has been hit hard by Pramorum disease of larch. Unfortunately the rapid spread of this pathogen will lead eventually to the removal of vast areas of larch from the Welsh landscape. However, we’re trying to make the best of a difficult situation by accelerating our long-term strategy to secure more diverse and resilient woodland. In this process, we’ve learnt a lot about tree pests and diseases, and how we should respond to this kind of event.”

He called for the forestry industry to work with government to manage these threats and their impacts, and welcomed the platform for this provided by ICF’s national conference.

“I welcome the fact that the Institute of Chartered Foresters has decided to come to Wales, and I am very keen on exchanging knowledge, research and examples of best practice with the rest of the UK.”

Watch the Carl Sargeant’s video address below.

Investment in face-to-face collaboration essential

Both speakers and delegates agreed that this collaboration was key to improving plant protection measures in the UK. Speaking on the global tree health perspective, Prof Mike Wingfield, President of IUFRO, described how international knowledge sharing was becoming critically important, but that investment in bringing researchers face-to-face continues to be inadequate. Describing what he would say to the UK’s next Prime Minister, he said it would be to stop talking about their concern for forests, describing it as “a lot of talk and no action”.

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The ICF conference provided an important opportunity for discussion on UK tree health

Skills shortage in forest sciences

The deficit of new skills in forest sciences was another area of intense discussion at the conference. Prof James K M Brown, Crop Genetics Project Leader at the John Innes Centre, who spoke about the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative, warned that there could be as few as 7 forest pathologists currently working in the UK. The skills shortage in plant sciences was reiterated by numerous other conference speakers, including Prof Simon Leather, Professor of Entomology at Harper Adams University. Speaking on day 2 about the needs for professional education, he voiced concerns over the absence of outdoor learning from the school curriculum, which is impacting on relevant field experience. He said that the over-emphasis on human and molecular biology, rather than plant biology, is further contributing to the skills gap.

Practical and technological solutions

Day two also looked at practical and technological solutions to global tree health issues and the cross-border spread of pests and pathogens. Speakers including Forest Research’s Dr Joan Webber (Principal Pathologist & Head of Tree Research Group) and Dr Bill Mason, Senior Silviculturist (Emeritus), who is also chair of the CCFG.

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Prof Tariq Butt, College of Science, Swansea University

Delegates also heard from Professor Tariq Butt of Swansea University outline exciting new research on biopesticides, and promise for future development of natural controls of pests and diseases. He described the benefits of Entomopathogenic Fungi as a replacement for chemicals to combat pests, and emphasised the reduced risk to public health that such natural controls could bring.

Finally, the conference closed with an engaging presentation from Steve Connor, CEO of Creative Concern Ltd, who has been working with a range of organisations on communicating tree health issues. His presentation on improving public awareness and communication, emphasised that in order for government to take biosecurity and tree health issues more seriously, the public would first need to be onside. He also stressed the importance of the use of online channels to create engagement on these issues.

Visit the ICF Facebook page to see more images from this event.

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