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‘Sentinel’ plants to serve on front line against pests and diseases

18 October 2013

A major new international project aimed at setting up a global network of tree and plant health sentinels is being launched at the Global Botanic Gardens Congress in New Zealand next week. The project will be coordinated by BGCI and make use of the over 1 million records in our PlantSearch database.

The International Plant Sentinel Network (IPSN) will develop a community of botanic gardens and arboreta around the world that will use ‘sentinel’ plants to provide early warning of new and emerging tree and plant pests and diseases.

The increasing globalisation of trade in plants and plant material has led to an increase in the introduction and spread of new and economically or environmentally damaging plant pests and diseases such as ash dieback (caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus) and Ramorum disease (caused by the Phytophthora ramorum pathogen).

The three-year, 400,000 Euro project will address a knowledge gap identified by the UK Government’s Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce concerning the use of sentinel plants in the UK and abroad to identify unknown risks. The project will monitor European native plants especially planted or already growing in overseas situations, especially in similar climates. By this means a consortium of scientists led by Britain’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) hopes to gain a valuable insight into pests and diseases which pose the greatest threat of moving around the planet and damaging new areas.

Dr Charles Lane, Project Manager, outlined how the project will work:

“Scientists across the network will share knowledge and experience so that they can develop and pass on the skills to botanic gardens and arboreta. This will enable them to survey and identify damaging plant pests and diseases on these sentinel plants, and help highlight future threats.

“Participants will monitor these sentinel plants, and gather information on any pests or diseases that may be present, using a range of field-based and remote diagnostic technologies.

“The project provides a unique opportunity to improve our understanding of future pest and disease threats to plants in different parts of the world.”

The project is being funded through EUPHRESCO, a major EU plant health project and will be co-ordinated by BGCI.

Suzanne Sharrock, Director of Global Programmes at BGCI, welcomed the collaboration, commenting,

“The world’s botanic gardens and arboreta collectively cultivate around one third of the world’s known plants, including many that are being grown far from their native habitats. 

“This project will help to realise the potential of these ‘outliers’ to provide an essential pest and disease early warning system.”

Dr John Grimshaw of the Yorkshire Arboretum added,

“The Yorkshire Arboretum is very pleased to be involved from the beginning of this project.  It is a fantastic opportunity to use the rich diversity of trees here to help evaluate surveying methods to be used worldwide to develop early warning systems for plant pests and diseases of current and future concern.”

Other project partners include the Julius Kühn Institut (JKI) in Germany, the National Plant Protection Organisation National Reference Laboratory in the Netherlands, the Forestry Commission’s Forest Research agency, and CABI.

The project will be launched at the 5th Global Botanic Gardens Congress from October 20-25, 2013, hosted by New Zealand’s Dunedin Botanic Garden (, within Symposium 3 organised by the Better Border Biosecurity (B3) programme.

The IPSN will complement Observatree, an internal system being developed for providing early warning of tree pests and diseases emerging 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.

More information about the project is available here


Notes for Editors:

1. The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) is an Executive Agency of the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Its remit is to provide robust evidence, rigorous analysis and expert professional advice to government, international organisations and the private sector, in order to support and develop a sustainable and secure food chain, a healthy natural environment, and to protect the global community from biological and chemical risks.

Further information from:
Media Officer: Alison Wilson
Tel: 01904 462380
The Food and Environment Research Agency, Sand Hutton, York, YO41 1LZ


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