New research projects announced to help save UK forests, woods and trees

25 March 2014

Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council press release

  • Seven new research projects will improve understanding of tree pests and pathogens, and associated plant biosecurity
  • £7m awarded to develop research capacity and capability.

Seven new research projects have received a share of £7m to help address threats to UK forests, woods and trees. The multi-disciplinary Tree Health & 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.

In the last few years, several new pests and diseases have emerged as significant risks to tree health and plant biosecurity. An increase in trade in plants and plant products has contributed to new pests and diseases entering the UK that are capable of causing serious damage. Climate change may also be increasing the risk of these pests and diseases establishing and spreading.

Environment minister Lord de Mauley said:

Safeguarding the future of our trees and plants is enormously important - on more than one occasion we have seen the dreadful trail of destruction such diseases can leave behind. And it's not just the environment that suffers, but the economy too. It is vital we invest in research like this to better protect our precious woodland from the future threat of pest and disease.

The new research projects will help to counter these threats by informing and evaluating potential control, mitigation or adaptation strategies. The projects will also generate natural and social scientific knowledge to improve understanding of the environmental, economic and social impacts of changes in tree health. The projects focus on: new approaches for the early detection of problems; understanding public concerns; increasing resilience against tree disease outbreaks; finding genetic clues to better tree health; biological control of insect pests; and understanding ash dieback.

THAPBI is funded under the auspices of the Living With Environmental Change partnership with support from the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), Economic & 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 & Plant Biosecurity Expert Task Force and the objectives of the joint Defra/Forestry Commission 'Tree Health & Plant Biosecurity Action Plan'. The projects will also ensure that the UK has increased research capacity in these areas.

Projects funded under the initiative:

  • 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 & 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)
  • 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.

Further information

Rob Dawson
BBSRC head of news
01793 413204

NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215

Press release: 09/14