Observatree: A New Collaboration

It is National Plant Health Week from 6-12 May. The Royal Forestry Society is delighted to announce a new collaboration with Observatree, the tree health citizen science project that promotes tree health surveillance and reporting.

By Wendy Necar · May 6, 2024

Led by Forest Research, Observatree is a multi-partner project that has recently celebrated its 10th year. Observatree trains and manages its own network of tree health volunteers, but also produces many resources to help deal with tree pests and diseases.

Christopher Williams, Royal Forestry Society Chief Executive, says: “Pests and diseases can have a huge impact on our forests. They already affect our current tree stock. They are increasingly impacting on decisions about the trees we are wanting to plant and the way we may plant them.

“The more people contribute to Observatree, the better the picture we will get about any trends which are emerging. That information will make us collectively better able to protect our forests and woodlands. Forests and woodland in turn provide so many benefits to local economies, the environment and to the wider society.

“Through this new collaboration, we aim to work with the Observatree team to raise awareness of tree health issues, share the Observatree resources and encourage reporting by RFS members through TreeAlert.”

New Education Resources

“We are also delighted to announce new teaching resources in Plant Health Week linked to key stages 1, 2, and 3. These are available within the Forest Education Network (FENE) resources hub. They aim to increase children and young people’s understanding of what healthy trees and forests look like and how they can be managed.

Pests and Diseases

We already host a number of blogs looking at the impacts and management of the main pests and diseases impacting our forests, woodlands and trees. These include:

Grey squirrels cause an estimated at £37m a year damage to our woodlands. Read our report and our case studies Counting the costs of grey squirrel damage in  a small wood and in an oak plantation.

Our Quarterly Journal of Forestry (QJF) includes research papers and other articles covering tree health issues. Members can search the archives on line.

Many of our Divisional Meetings in England, Wales and Northern Ireland focus on tree health, pests and diseases.

About Plant Health Week

This is the fourth annual National Plant Health Week. The week is a collaborative effort by over 32 organisations who have an interest in plants, from across the UK, who are committed to protect the health of our nation’s plants and trees.

The focus of this year’s National Plant Health week is to encourage everyone to be a good plant health citizen.

Find out more about the many activities taking place around the country during Plant Health Week. Follow the conversation on social media #PlantHealthWeek and #PlantHealthDay on May 12, International Day of Plant Health.

Like people, plants can become sick from pests and diseases, and we need your help to protect them. Our plants and trees are increasingly vulnerable to pests and disease, due to the globalisation of trade and travel, human activity, and climate change.

In addition, climate change and human activity have altered ecosystems, reducing biodiversity and creating new opportunities for pests to thrive.

Protecting the UK from plants pests and diseases is far more cost effective than dealing with plant health outbreaks. Government and the plant sector are leading the way and taking actions to address these threats.

We all have an important role to play in keeping our plants healthy. There are many actions you can take to be a responsible plant health citizen and protect the UKs plants and trees from pest and diseases.

Look out for signs of pests and diseases on your local trees- report these through TreeAlert,  This information supports important tree health monitoring and surveillance work, contributes to ongoing scientific research, and helps to protect the nation’s trees.

‘Don’t risk it!’ Don’t bring plant material (plants, trees, fruit and seeds) into the UK from trips abroad. These might be carrying harmful pests and diseases

Buy your plants and trees responsibly- Source plants from reputable nurseries and suppliers. If you are buying plants online, buy from a UK-based supplier where possible, to reduce the risk of harmful pests and diseases entering the country. Check out the YouTube Video: ‘Buying Responsibly with Pippa Greenwood’

Keep it clean by cleaning boots, bikes and buggies before visiting woodlands and parks, otherwise you could spread harmful organiP sms like fungi, bacteria and insects.

All landowners, managers and timber processors should remain vigilant for Ips typographus as we enter the breeding season. It is important to continue taking the necessary action to rapidly remove any stressed, damaged or windblown spruce trees (regardless of storms).

With storm damage previously reported across England following storms Isha and Jocelyn in January 2024, and the even more recent storm Kathleen in April, spruce trees that have fallen or snapped and been left in situ significantly increase the risk of Ips typographus outbreaks occurring in spring/summer from beetles blowing over from the continent.

We recommend that spruce stands are regularly walked, with fallen or snapped trees and material identified and destroyed as soon as possible. Please remain vigilant for signs of Ips typographus. If you think you have spotted signs of this beetle anywhere in Great Britain then please tell us using our Tree Alert form.

You can also submit a Tree Alert form if your spruce woodland is exhibiting signs of decline or stress, and the Forestry Commission may arrange for a follow up inspection.


Healthy plants and trees are vital for our survival and provide us with many benefits, but our plant health is under threat from pests and diseases and climate change.

Our plants also provide an annual value to our society of £15.7billion

Plants feed us: 80% of the food we eat comes from plants. It is estimated that 20% to 40% of global food production is lost annually due to plant pest and diseases. Food security therefore relies on safeguarding the health of our plants from pest and disease outbreaks.

Plants help us breathe plants produce 98% of the oxygen we breathe.

Plants help fight climate change: It is estimated that 4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide is stored in UK forests. Trees are the ultimate multi-taskers in the fight against climate change. They can help prevent flooding, reducing city temperatures, reduce pollution and keep soil nutrient rich.

1.3 billion kg of air pollutants are removed by plants each year in the UK.