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Action Oak Knowledge Review

 Action Oak’s recent ‘Oak Health Knowledge Review’ (available as a download at www.actionoak.org) confirms we have every reason to worry about the health of our native oaks.

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Action Oak partners

Action Oak was launched in Spring 2018 as a national campaign to protect our native oak trees, Quercus robur and Q. petraea. A public-private partnership, it has been set up in response to concerns over the multiple threats facing these two iconic species which together enjoy such a special place in our national identity.  The RFS is closely involved with the campaign both through its membership, and directly, being represented on the ‘knowledge exchange’ panel.

Building oak resilience

The focus of the Action Oak initiative is on building oak resilience.  It is seeking to achieve this through targeted interdisciplinary research, a structured programme of knowledge exchange, and engagement with a broad range of stakeholders to ensure that scientific findings are applied in practical situations. 

Knowledge Review

The Knowledge Review, funded by Defra, marks the first step towards this goal: the wide-ranging fact-finding exercise is intended as the foundation for the campaign’s future work. 

The Review seeks to clarify what is already known about the health of the UK’s oaks and, particularly, to discover where the major gaps in that knowledge lie.  It pools the expertise of many -  more than 40 separate authors have been involved, reflecting the breadth of its scope which takes in environmental, economic and social factors.  Together, they have scanned the published literature, sought input from those working on the ground, and incorporated the emerging findings of ongoing projects.  While the study was restricted to the UK, where significant gaps were found to exist in UK research, the remit was widened to look at information from abroad.

The result is a robust understanding of the current state of knowledge about oak health.  Each of the main chapters reviews a key topic:

  • Environmental factors stressing oak trees (with sub-chapter, ‘Oak health and functional diversity of mycorrhizas’);
  • Pest threats to UK oak health;
  • Pathogen threats to native oaks in the UK;
  • Oak health and biodiversity;
  • Fundamental knowledge of genetics and implications for health of oak trees;
  • Monitoring oak health;
  • Land managers and publics: knowledge, attitudes and actions associated with threats to oak trees;
  • Management of oak tree health;
  • Semiochemical-based strategies. 

With extensive reference lists, each chapter provides a comprehensive resumé of its subject area.

Time and again, the experts come up with the stark fact: our knowledge is alarmingly patchy.  Despite much excellent research having been done, we still fall well short of having the data required to enable us to respond to the multiple issues threatening our oaks.

 Themes and challenges

A number of themes have emerged, common across the specialist topic group.   The editorial panel has pulled these together to give the overview, and distilled them into six ‘grand challenges’.   

Four of the challenges are to ‘tackle the lack’:  

  • of commitment.  It is essential that we have long-term commitment to existing monitoring and trials in order for meaningful data to be produced; at present there is a dearth of long-term records.
  • of understanding about the nation’s population of oaks.  We require an improved understanding of oak demography, and need more complete statistics about the nation’s population of oak.   Again, data is currently in very short supply, especially that relating to trees in non-woodland settings.
  • of holistic studies of oak health.  It is crucial that we improve our understanding of the functioning of tree systems.
  • of management of oak woodlands.  It is vital to promote the management of woodlands and to foster the engagement of owners and other stakeholders in tree health.

Challenge 5  is for us to better understand the magnitude of future health risks from pests and diseases. 

Challenge 6 focuses on how health problems associated with oak are complex and uncertain in their nature and aims to  establish how the various threats interact, and unravel the complexities, forms a sixth challenge.

In working to meet these challenges, through targeted research, and the accumulation of knowledge, it is hoped that the future for oak will be secure.  The Review urges those involved to respond in a broad and innovative way, establishing integrated studies, including those addressing the social and economic systems as well as the natural ones.  Instead of simply trying to plug the individual gaps in knowledge identified, it calls for an approach which pulls together contributions from across disciplines such that the solutions themselves offer an integrated approach to ensuring a healthy future for our native oaks.

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