UK: Enhanced early warning for alien threats to trees and plants

Early warning systems for new and emerging pests and diseases of trees and plants are to be given a valuable boost this week with the launch of the International Plant Sentinel Network (IPSN).

This worldwide collaboration, led and co-ordinated by Britain’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), will be launched at the Global Botanic Gardens Congress in New Zealand.

The expanding global trade in plant material has led to an increase in the rate of entry and establishment of new and economically or environmentally damaging plant pests and diseases. These include Chalara ash dieback (caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea) and Ramorum disease (caused by the Phytophthora ramorum pathogen) and are set to increase as a result of climate change and global trade.

“Identifying potential threats is far from straightforward,” says Charles Lane, senior plant pathologist at Fera. “The most serious invasive alien species are often not pests in their region of origin. Instead, they are often controlled by natural enemies that do not occur in the region of introduction, or their original hosts are more resistant to attack.”

In a bid to improve the identification of potential threats, the IPSN is championing plant ‘sentinels’. These will be native European trees and plants especially planted or already growing in arboreta and botanic collections outside Europe. These ‘sentinel’ plants will be monitored closely for damage caused by pests and diseases, thereby acting as part of an early warning system for Europe.

The project sets out to develop best practice and standardised approaches for monitoring and surveying invasive alien plant pests and diseases. This will include the provision of training materials, guidance on diagnostic approaches, databases and methodologies for staff and volunteers in botanic gardens and arboreta.

“By improving our early warning systems in this way, countries will have more information at their disposal to make informed decisions and implement the necessary policy to help prevent these potentially threatening alien species from entering and establishing,” says Charles Lane.

The IPSN will complement Observatree, a system being developed to provide early warning of tree health threats arising within the UK. It will also support the efforts of the UK plant health services to identify potential risks and take proactive steps to mitigate them.

The project is being funded through EUPHRESCO, a major EU plant health project co-ordinated by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). BGCI’s Plant Search Database contains more than 1 million records of plants which could act as sentinels in botanic gardens worldwide.

European partners in the project include the Botanic Gardens Conservation International, CABI Biosciences, the Forestry Commission’s Forest Research agency, The National Plant Protection Organisation National Reference Laboratory in the Netherlands, and the Julius Kühn Institut in Germany. The project co-ordinator will work to establish partnerships between scientists, botanic gardens and arboreta within the UK and around the world.

More information about the project is available at


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