Play your part to help stop the spread of tree diseases

It’s not often in my line of work that you get asked to be in film – and if I am honest it’s not something I would normally jump at either! But in this case I was more than delighted to help to raise awareness across the sector and publically on the increasingly serious issue of new tree pest and diseases that are being found in the UK. 

Caterpillar dermatitis - allergic reaction to Oak Processionary moth.

During a major outbreak in the Netherlands in June 1996, 4% of the population of a town of half a million was affected with more than 100 patients a day with caterpillar dermatitis in some GP surgeries.

It is a matter of record that the trend in recent years has been for an increased frequency in the detection of new tree pests and diseases being discovered in the UK, with around a dozen in the first decade of the new millennium as opposed to only a couple in the previous few years.  Unfortunately many of these pests/diseases have, or have the potential to have, a major impact on both the biodiversity and timber value of our woodland resource. But what is more unfortunate is that many of these pests/diseases are being brought into the UK and then moved around through our own actions.

The Oak Processionary Moth (Thaumetopoea processionea)

Occasionally found along the south coast of England and also on the Channel Islands, the Oak Processionary moth gets its common name from its caterpillars’ striking habit of forming long lines, or ‘processions’, in trees and other substrates.

Here are just a few recent examples: the Oak Processionary moth, with the allergy-causing hairs on its caterpillars which is now causing problems both for our native oaks and also people in London, first entered the UK on large oak trees bought into the country for a landscaping project. Phytophthora ramoruma fungal like pathogen which has so far led to the death and felling of hundreds of hectares of Larch plantations in the South West, Wales and Northern Ireland – was introduced into the UK on infected rhododendrons from Europe and then moved around the UK through the onward movement of infected plants.  It’s also possible that some of the movement of this pathogen has been on spores picked up in the mud of infected sites and transported by visitors using the woods. And the recent outbreak of Asian Longhorn beetle, a beetle with an appetite for young broad leaf trees, was caused by the beetle “hitching” a ride in the wood of pallets used to transport stone from Asia. These are just a few examples.

Image: WTPL/A.Sharkey

A key feature of Acute Oak Decline in situ

There is clearly therefore much that we can all do to help control both the importation of new pest and diseases but also to help minimise the spread once they are here.  So please view the information films which focus on the Phytophthora ramorum outbreak, part of wider campaign by Government. The messages each film include about how you can play your part in helping to prevent the spread of this pathogen, apply generally to all tree diseases. 

If you don’t have the time to view the video then there is also this FERA Countryside Poster which contains the key messages as well (download free).  

And if you are a Hollywood agent and you are interested in me for a movie role I can be contacted via the Woodland Trust!

Andy Sharkey, head of woodland management


About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
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9 Responses to Play your part to help stop the spread of tree diseases

  1. Devon Blitz says:

    dermatitis can have several causes. most of the time topical corticosteroids works in relieving dermatitis.^

    Check out all of the newest blog post on our personal web page

  2. Russell Feehan says:

    Dermatitis can be caused by a lot o things. Most of the time it is caused by allergice reaction to some chemicals and biological organisms like bacteria and viruses. Topical corticosteroids helps a lot in alleviating the itchiness.”.;”

    Thanks again

  3. Andrew Sharkey - Head of Woodland Management - The Woodland Trust says:


    Many thanks for your response. What your comments reinforce to me is how increasing global trade in plants is playing a signifcant role in moving tree diseases and pest all around the world.

    The need for greater vigilance and especially biosecurity measures at points of import or even the need to control certain trades and imports has never been more important and there is a real need for the entire horticultural, landscaping, gardening and forestry sectors to work together on this. The cost of trying to control or live with these new disease once they have arrived and the knock on impacts so vividly demonstrated by the Oak Processionary Moth really does suggest that preventing entry is key in the first place.

  4. Lord, we haven’t got the invasion of that damned moth yet but we sure as hell have been still on the hunt and process of eliminating the emerald ash borer and japanese beetles, through out the U.S. They say it all started from when we received some sort of shipment from Korea or one another country out in the east, and now we’re paying for it. But its not as bad as the U.K. has it, I can safely say none of the pests I listed can bite and cause such a tremendous skin infection. I hope you guys get to the bottom of this one soon, Good luck Andrew. Do the best you can.

    -Tony Salmeron

  5. silver price says:

    The caterpillars – the larval stage of the moth’s life cycle – pose two problems. They severely defoliate oak trees by feeding on the leaves and, from the third instar, they have tiny hairs which are sharp, barbed and contain a toxin called thaumetopoein that can cause irritation and allergic reactions. Further information, including frequently asked questions, is available on our Questions and Answers page .

  6. Andrew Sharkey - Head of Woodland Management - The Woodland Trust says:

    Many thanks for the response and as you say it will be the accummulation of all our small actions which should help spread the messages and control the spread of some of these diseases.

    The agricultural sector have clearly been implementing biosecurity measures at a farm level of many years now as a matter of routine and this is something that the forestry sector will, I feel, need to start getting use to as well. We have recently adopted a biosecurity protocol for our own staff and have been implementing boot cleaning and if necessary disinfecting boots at certain higher risk sites, and are now looking at how we handle any biosecurity messages around general events and organised visits to our woods. But hopefully this wider awareness raising will also get across the very simple and basic precautions that everyone can take.

    As you point out one of the key points is looking at how gvernment can help prevent new diseases entering the UK in the first instance and it is particularly refreshing to see that some of the additional spending on this area is being targetted to address this – with more plant health inspectors at key ports etc. While this clearly a government responsibility there are again many things we can all do in terms of not bringing plants back to the UK from our holidays, giving some thought to where we source plants from etc.

    I understand that there will be major profile and awareness campaign around tree diseases and biosecurity at the APF show this year for the sector as a whole.

  7. Moray says:

    The Ancient Tree Forum at its recent summer conference field visits has initiated a programme of awareness tand controlmeasures to help prevent the spread of Phythopthoa species. This includes asking delegates to ensure that their footwear is clean of mud and debris and spraying the soles of the footwear with the disinfectant “Propellar”. This is a small action, but hopefully will raise awareness and prevent the spread of ramorum and other Pythopthora species.

    Awareness, funding for research, biosecurity at our ports and airports and new legislation to help prevent new diseases and pests entering Britain are all part of the equation. It good to see the Woodland Trust raising awareness. Now its time for government to take action.

  8. tree climber says:

    What we can all do to help prevent the spread of pests and pathogens is one thing, what the woodland trust can do is another. Funding is critical. As the ‘largest’ tree charity in the UK are you committed in helping fill the hole in research left behind by the cuts to Forest Research which mean that all we have left are youtube videos doing the rounds. Lets get on top of this and lets see some promises rather than publicity.

    • Andrew Sharkey - Head of Woodland Management - The Woodland Trust says:

      Many thanks for your posting and a very valid point – as part of a wider forestry and conservation sector grouping we have been part of a collective campaign raising and discussin these issues with government regarding for a number of years. While Forest Research have taken cuts this sector pressure has helped to ensure that the area of tree disease research was not cut and will in fact increase by @30% over the next 3-4 years. The government has also allocated a further £7M of new funding to the area of plant and tree health as well as part of a Tree and Plant Health Action plan which was launched in October 2011. Details on this plan and progress with it are available through the following link:

      The Woodland Trust has also directly and financially supported some of FR work on Acute Oak Decline and has a number of its sites being used in the on-going research on this disease. We also have staff on a number of the government stakeholder and working groups dealing with this issue and there are on-going discussion around what further support and role the Woodland Trust can play in this area.

      While funding into direct research is vitally important what is also clear is that there are things that everyone can help with and unless we start to get some of these basic messages on biosecurity out to everyone both the sector and the public then the battle against further introductions and the control/management of existing pest and diseases will be harder.

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