A record-breaking 2019 and new developments for 2020
Peter Crow – Observatree Project Lead
2019 was a record-breaking year for the project, with almost 4400 tree health reports submitted by our volunteers. The focus of Observatree has always been on the quality of reports submitted, rather than the number, but this figure far exceeds the previous 2018 record and shows the levels of hard work, commitment and dedication of our volunteers, many of whom were new recruits to the network a year ago. Our new ‘Lead volunteers’ have also played an important role in mentoring many of these new individuals.
The higher number of reports do not necessarily imply a sudden rise in the findings of tree pests or diseases. The majority of the submitted reports were of healthy, regularly monitored Sentinel trees, providing us with valuable background information on where pests or diseases are absent. Whilst these negative reports dominated submissions, our volunteers have also provided significant reports of pests and diseases, supported plant health inspectors with targeted surveys and assisted Forest Research scientists with important information and samples.
In November, I gave a presentation on Observatree at a national conference of Tree Officers. I asked the audience (of approximately 300 people) how many of them were familiar with Observatree or used our educational resources. I was very pleasantly surprised to see almost every hand in the room being raised. Such a sight combined with the high levels of activity from our volunteer network are indicators of the ongoing success of the project. Observatree continues to go from strength to strength and this is due to the hard work of many project staff, volunteers and wider supporters and stakeholders. I would like to say a personal ‘thank you’ to everyone who contributed to the success of the project last year.
Observatree began in 2013 as an initial four-year project. We are now in our 7th year and aiming to continue the project into the foreseeable future. Due to the increasing demands on our website and the high level of activity, we are beginning plans to redevelop systems and provide better mechanisms for our volunteers to submit their data and see what they have previously reported. These will need to be designed from scratch, meet the needs of various users and will need to integrate with other systems such a Tree Alert. We are viewing these as long-term investments in a longer future for Observatree. They will take time to put in place, so please bear with us if any of the existing processes are believed to be slow or time-consuming. We are aware that improvements are required, and I will be working with project partners this year to begin these processes.
2020 is the International year of Plant Health and throughout the year, both Observatree and our partner organisations will be holding events and raising awareness of tree health issues and concerns. DEFRA have kicked off 2020 IYPH with the launch of The Ash Archive initiative which you can find out more about In their blog.
We hope to host some blogs in the coming year looking at how the work of Observatree and similar projects elsewhere in the world contribute to improved biosecurity and pest and disease reporting around the world. Last September, I was invited to Slovenia to an international conference on tree health and citizen science where I gave a presentation on Observatree. There is concern in many countries about tree health, invasive pests or diseases and there is interest in how citizen scientists can help. Whilst Observatree is certainly not the only tree health citizen science project in existence, our focus on a smaller network of well-trained volunteers, supplemented with high quality resources and the continued success of the project, gives us valuable experience and expertise. There is significant interest in our methods and achievements. We will continue to seek international opportunities to share these experiences where possible in the interests of widening the tree health citizen science network.
As we begin a new decade, it is perhaps an opportune moment to personally recommit to good biosecurity practices, remaining vigilant of tree pests and diseases, reporting via Tree Alert and encouraging these activities in others. Individually, we can make a contribution, collectively we can make a difference.
Wishing you all a Happy New Year on behalf of the Observatree team