Spot pests and diseases with the OPAL tree health survey

09 May 2013

Pests and diseases are causing havoc with many of the UK's best-loved trees such as oak, ash and horse chestnut. From today, however, you can give scientists a helping hand and investigate how badly affected your local trees are, with the launch of the OPAL tree health survey.

The One Show's Mike Dilger measuring the girth of a tree for the OPAL tree health survey.

The One Show's Mike Dilger measuring the girth of a tree for the OPAL tree health survey.

OPAL, Open Air Laboratories, is one of the largest national citizen science projects, inspiring people to discover, enjoy and protect their local environment while contributing to environmental research. It is led by Imperial College London and one of its partners is the Natural History Museum.

‘Tree Health is one of the most exciting and important surveys OPAL has developed so far,' says Dr Linda Davies, Director of OPAL at Imperial College London.

'It is the 7th in our series of nature studies designed for people of all ages and abilities to start exploring and recording local nature'. 

Mike Dilger, ecologist and BBC One Show presenter joined OPAL at Kew Gardens to put the survey to the test before its launch.

The survey was put together by OPAL researchers and experts from the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) and Forest Research. 

Threats to trees
Leaves showing ash disease, which is deadly to young ash trees.

Leaves showing ash disease, which is deadly to young ash trees. © Andrej Kunka

People are asked to examine the trees in their local area, keeping a special eye out for pests and diseases. 

Trees are particularly vulnerable to new threats arriving in the country, so the survey pack includes a guide to 6 of these most unwanted pests and diseases such as ash dieback and the pest the emerald ash borer. They could spell disaster for the UK's forests if they spread throughout the UK.

The ash dieback, Chalara fraxinea, infection was first confirmed in the UK in October 2012. It’s a fungus that has been destroying ash trees in continental Europe since 1992. 

Chalara kills young ash within one growing season of symptoms becoming visible but older trees may survive for longer. It is called dieback as it causes leaf loss and crown dieback, eventually leading to tree death.

Tree health survey pack
Emerald ash borer

Emerald ash borer © Forestry Commission

As well as the guide to some of the pests and diseases, the free tree health survey pack also includes guides to identifying trees, measuring their girth and height, examining the trunk, branches and leaves.

Participants will become skilled in identifying wildlife and in recording biological information, the team says. They will contribute to the national research programme being carried out by Forest Research, the research agency of the Forestry Commission that is investigating the health of Britain’s trees and the spread of pests and diseases.

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