The EBTS Chairman was invited to the RHS’s eight John MacLeod Annual Lecture, this year given by Professor Nicola Spence, Chief Plant Health Officer and Deputy Director for plant and bee health at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The title of the talk was ‘Responding to an increasing threat – Protecting the UK from plant pests and diseases’ and Nicola explained how introduced pests and pathogens had increased significantly since records began. These can be brought into the country in some quite unexpected ways, such as wood packing pieces around imported steel sheets on container ships – Asian long horn beetle, in vehicles – the stinky bug and in more obviously in plants especially with the increase of mature specimens.
Sporting venues can also harbor potential issues as their turf is laid on sand and heated to the perfect breeding temperature for pathogenic nematodes. Some clubs hit the headlines because they use a garlic spray to control the problem, but it does leave the ground smelling a bit. Another issue that had media coverage just at the wrong point was a food that was under investigation, Ulluco (they look like coloured potatoes). These had been found to have virus like symptoms that could cause a number of issues to DEFRA had worked with the EU to introduce Europe wide regulation. Unfortunately at around the time of the introduction Nicola was watching Master Chef only to see them appear as one of the foods being cooked!
Top 3 Pests & Pathogens
- Asian Longhorned Beetle – kills many species of broad leaved trees
- Emerald Ash Borer – causing extensive damage and high mortality to native ash species in the US
- Xylella fastidiosa – very serious as it carrier (vector) is the spittlebug which is abundant in the UK and it attacks many plants (hosts) that are also plentiful in the UK
At present the top 3 pests and pathogens are not in the UK, or where they have been, they have been quickly eradicated. Xylella might be third on the list, but due to the high number of potential plants it affects and the ease of spreading by the abundant supply of spittlebugs it is being focused on as it is already in areas of France and Italy. Olive trees are one of the affected plants and from 26th November all trees imported from the EU will need to be notified to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).
When you travel via an international airport, ferry or trains station you should start to seeing posters and information for new campaign called ‘Don’t Risk It’. This has been launched to make people aware of the damage to UK plants and crops of bringing plants, cuttings, seeds, flowers, fruit and vegetables back into the UK when returning from a holiday. I must admit I didn’t see any when I traveled to France for a boxwood conference via EuroStar.
The RHS and DEFRA are working in partnership on box blight and how to control it. This is something EBTS UK will be covering when we look at the work Matthew Cromey, the RHS Principal Plant Pathologist, is doing on how different clipping of boxwood plants affects their susceptibility to blight.
I would like to thank Stephanie Bird of the 16 strong science team at the RHS for inviting me as Chairman to the lecture. It was great to talk to Sue Biggs and meet more of the great team working on the various projects that are being undertaken.
The talk will be available to view on the RHS YouTube channel.