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University Joins New Research Projects Announced to Help Save UK Forests, Woods and Trees

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The University of Worcester, along with partner institutions, has been successful in winning a £7m national research project to help save the UK’s forests, woods and trees.

In recent years, new pests and diseases have emerged as significant risks to tree health and plant biosecurity. Experts say an increased trade in plants and plant products has also contributed to new pests and diseases entering the country. Climate change may also be playing its part.

Now seven projects will share around £7 million of public funding to look at new ways to tackle the problems – and support the UK’s woodlands, commercial forests and trees.

The National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit (NPARU) at the University of Worcester is part of the research project looking at new approaches for the early detection of tree health pests and pathogens. The project is being led by Dr Rick Mumford, of the Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera), and is worth approximately £1.9m. 

Professor Ros Foskett, Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University, said: “We are delighted that the NPARU has been selected to contribute to this major piece of research. The Unit’s staff are highly experienced experts in this field and will play a vital role in this crucial research, which will help us to understand the biological threats to tree health.”

The multi-disciplinary Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative (THAPBI) will generate knowledge to tackle pests and diseases and to support the future health of the UK's woodlands, commercial forests and urban trees. The societal benefits of the UK's trees are estimated at around £1.8bn per year.

The project in which the University of Worcester is involved aims to provide better methods for detecting tree pests and pathogens. It will look at new technologies for detecting changes in infected plants using either ‘sniffer’ technology to identify chemical changes in the air triggered by disease or imaging techniques that can detect changes beyond the range of human vision. The researchers will also look at developing new traps for capturing insects and DNA-based detection approaches to look for pathogens.

Professor Roy Kennedy, Director of the University of Worcester’s NPARU, said: “Early detection of new tree pathogens, such as ash dieback, is very important in minimising potential damage and preventing or stopping disease outbreaks.  This aspect will be investigated by the University of Worcester.”

The project is a partnership between Fera, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Forest Research, the James Hutton Institute, Rutherford Appleton Laboratories and the Universities of Aberdeen, Oxford, Exeter, Greenwich, Hertfordshire, St. Andrews and Worcester.

THAPBI is funded under the auspices of the Living with Environmental Change Partnership with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Economic and Social Research Council, Forestry Commission, Natural Environment Research Council and the Scottish Government.

The research will address knowledge gaps identified by Defra's Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Task Force and the objectives of the joint Defra/Forestry Commission 'Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan'. The projects will also ensure that the UK has increased research capacity in these areas.

The projects funded under the THABI initiative are:

• Population structure and natural selection in the Chalara ash dieback fungus, Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus – approx. £635k

Led by Professor James Brown, the John Innes Centre

• Identifying genomic resources against pests and pathogens in tree genera: a case study in Fraxinus – approx. £760k

Led by Dr Richard Buggs, Queen Mary, University of London

• Biological pest control of insect pests that threaten tree health – approx. £900k

Led by Professor Tariq Butt, Swansea University

• Promoting resilience of UK tree species to novel pests and pathogens: ecological and evolutionary solutions – approx. £1.4M

Led by Dr Stephen Cavers, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

• Modelling economic impact and strategies to increase resilience against tree disease outbreaks – approx. £900k

Led by Dr Adam Kleczkowski, University of Stirling

• New approaches for the early detection of tree health pests and pathogens – approx. £1.9M

Led by Dr Rick Mumford, Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera), involving the University of Worcester

• Understanding public risk concerns: an investigation into the social perception, interpretation and communication of tree health risks – approx. £615k

Led by Dr Clive Potter, Imperial College London