Volunteer mentoring days success!

Volunteer mentoring days success

It has been a fantastic year for our Observatree volunteers in terms of records submitted and the valuable contributions that they have made to tree health throughout the period. Many new volunteers have joined us and some of our longstanding contributors have increased their efforts and responsibilities within the project. So when the opportunity for some of the tree health professionals linked to the project to give something back to volunteers comes up we always have a great response. 

This year that has allowed us to run some successful mentoring days across the UK for our volunteers to attend. Read on to find out what went on and what people learned from the experience.

Observatree Welsh region mentoring day – David Griffith

Dyffryn Gardens, a National Trust property in the Vale of Glamorgan was our venue on a damp autumn day.

We had a useful morning session led by Charlotte on survey forms and the data we submit – the more information we send the better the data.

After lunch I led a session in the arboretum focusing on Tree ID and P&Ds.

We found a number of priority P&Ds – Sirococcus tsugae on a young Blue Cedar, Chalara with some veteran trees badly affected, Horse Chestnut leaf miner – the tree also had leaf blotch and bleeding canker.

There are many magnificent specimen trees to see here, all the species we need to ID for the priority P&Ds – well worth a visit.

Thanks to the volunteers who could make it on the day.

Dyffryn House -wikimedia commons

Alice Holt mentoring day

A number of our lucky Volunteers were able to attend a day at Alice Holt, home of Forest Research. See what they had to say about the experience and seeing where reports from across the country are dealt with.

From lead Observatree volunteer Steve. M: ‘The day was interesting, useful and enjoyable. Thanks again to all’ and ‘Was a brilliant day…’

From Observatree volunteer Graeme B: ‘The mentoring day was hugely beneficial in so many ways.  The tour of the labs was fascinating – a behind the scenes glimpse into the mysterious world of P&Ds. All of the scientists we spoke to were passionate about their jobs.  Their enthusiasm to describe P&Ds was matched by our eagerness to listen and learn. The visit to the seed bank was educational. Arguably the most valuable part of the day was the walk and information about two new P&Ds for me (spruce beetle and zig zag caterpillar) which brings up my tally of priority P&Ds I’ve seen to seven.  

It was also good to meet the staff at Alice Holt and also my volunteer colleagues.   My thanks to everyone involved’

From Observatree volunteer Ian T: ‘Tuesday at Alice Holt was a grand old time….. very relaxed and informative. The knowledge of the specialists at Alice Holt is impressive and motivating. They should all be congratulated. It was a fully enjoyable day, without pressure or concern. Suzy, Ana and Lucy were perfect ‘hosts’. Thanks to all who arranged, participated and attended.

Example of resin bleeds on a Spruce tree – Observatree

From lead Observatree volunteer Richard C: ‘It was an outstanding day in my view and a great privilege to have been able to attend. It was a real privilege to visit Forest Research at Alice Holt last week.’ As ever I was looking forward to the outdoor session in the afternoon with opportunities to see pests and diseases in the field where we did indeed see zig-zag sawfly larvae and pupae as well as the resin tubes created by the Great Spruce Bark Beetle.

 We were also shown the seed extraction and cleaning facility which serves the UK.

Perhaps as riveting as any other part of the day were a series of face to face meetings with the scientists at the Research Station. We all left the Research Station with a renewed enthusiasm driven by a deeper understanding of the challenge of monitoring and researching the many threats to our tree heritage. Thank you to all the staff involved in the day which was made special by their contributions and clear commitment to their area of work’.  


From Observatree volunteer Roger P: ‘Had an excellent day at Alice Holt. All the lab talks were interesting and I gained an insight into how painstaking research has to be and the importance of accurate data so trends and patterns can be recognised. The talk on AOD was particularly interesting with the uncertainty of the part played by the beetle A. biguttatus.’ 

‘We saw how seeds were extracted from cones, a spore trap in operation and then we went on a pest and disease trail where I got not only my first sighting of the Elm Zig Zag Sawfly larva munching its way through a leaf leaving behind the tell tale pattern, but also the distinctive resin tube of the great spruce bark beetle. It was a fascinating day and my thanks go to Suzy for organising it’.

From Observatree volunteer Marco B: ‘It was a privilege for me to be able to meet so many enthusiastic and VERY passionate people at Forest Research, Alice Holt (a place I would love to be able to contribute towards on a more permanent basis)’. To see how our work is put to good use through our Tree Alert and Observatree responses reinforces how valuable it is to their research projects. It’s very satisfying to know that we all can make a HUGE difference.

Being up-close and personal with the pests and diseases obtaining a first-hand glimpse of what we should be looking for all makes it so much clearer. The extraction unit at Alice Holt was, for me, a great place to understand how we collect and distribute seeds. I did not know this even existed – fabulous! Thank you so much for allowing this to happen, to Suzy for being the perfect host and ALL of the team members we met yesterday a huge thank you!’

Scotland mentoring day – Matilda Scharsach, Woodland Trust, Scotland Volunteering Development Officer

On Wednesday 30th October, I joined nine Observatree volunteers at Forest Research’s Northern Research Station, south of Edinburgh, for a sharing and mentoring day.

Charlotte Armitage, who manages this volunteer role, set up the event with Hugh Clayden from Scottish Forestry, April Armstrong and Katy Dainton from Forest Research.  April’s area of specialism is tree diseases, whereas Katy focuses on pests such as the Great spruce bark beetle (Dendroctonus micans).

First of all we all had a go at evaluating some completed Observatree reports, to get a feel of what constitutes ‘good data’ and where incomplete reports can be a problem.

Following on from this we heard from Jim Pratt, a distinguished forester with a lifetime career with the Forestry Commission. His claim to fame, amongst other things, is that he was the first person to identify Dutch Elm Disease in the UK, on the Isle of Dogs.   He described the occasion when he first spotted a huge old diseased elm, bright crimson in colour; he’d never seen anything like it.  He attributed the arrival of the disease to be from beetles able to survive in containers on ships arriving into ports around the Isle of Dogs.

Jim Pratt talks about Ash to volunteers – Matilda Scharsach

His talk at our event, entitled “Ash Flowering: one thing leads to another”, was a fascinating story of his journey of discovery about ash trees enabled by his meticulous photography of two ash trees in his garden, every day for several years.  

He talked about how close observation, and over a long time, is so important, and how Observatree volunteers are so well placed to do this; their role is vital.  Trees, diseases and pests change and evolve over time, so it’s so important to keep observing. Ash trees, for example, can be female, male or hermaphrodite, but can also have male parts on female flowers and vice versa, or even differences in gender depending upon the height up the stem, and also change sex over time.

Jim finished off by saying that we must all be vigilant.  A symptom on a tree that isn’t listed as a symptom might still be really important; it might be a new disease or an existing disease evolving and presenting in a different way. He sees the Observatree volunteer role as an incredibly important one and that for it to be even more useful, it needs to continue over the long term.  He pointed out how important it is to publish the Observatree data and findings in order for other researchers, across the whole of Europe and beyond, to follow on from what we find!

Lunch followed Jim’s inspiring talk, and then we donned white coats for a visit to the lab where April and Katy carry out their research.

April showed us an infected ash branch, and demonstrated how to take a helpful sample for diagnostics and investigation.  V-shaped lesions occur at the frontline of the spread of Chalara up a stem, and it is at the point of this lesion that a sample should be taken, and also from further up where the infection will also be spreading into live tissue. 

V or Diamond shaped lesions on Ash sample – Matilda Scharsach

Cutting a sample form infected Ash – Matilda Scharsach

Finally Katy showed us a live Spruce bark beetle, and some live Rhizophagus grandis beetles, which is the natural predator of the Spruce bark beetle.  R. grandis predates solely on great spruce bark beetles, and it has an extraordinary ability to locate them, even when there might be only a few infested trees.  R. grandis isn’t, however, moving as fast across the country as its prey, hence the need to give it a helping hand by introducing it wherever an outbreak occurs.  The predator reduces the impact in timber crops from 10% loss to negligible

Sprice bark beetle larve – Matilda Scharsach

A live Great spruce bark beetle – Matilda Scharsach

Katy also showed us lots of examples of photographs of damaged caused by Spruce bark beetle, and how to identify ‘galleries’ where they collectively live and breed.  Signs include lots of weeping sap as well as entry holes for the beetle.

All in all it was a fascinating, inspiring and motivating day.  Thanks team Observatree for inviting me along.  In 2020 we will be running some joint monitoring visits for Observatree volunteers to compare notes in terms of ID and reporting. 

North East mentoring day- Adam Offler

At the beginning of November, seven of us met up for a NE mentoring event in the centre of Durham.  We headed for the local nature reserve at Flass Vale, a woodland mostly of beech and sycamore but with some younger planted trees and garden escapes.  As we walked, Charles Lane pointed out ash dieback and chestnut leaf miner in some of these younger trees, and the bootlace rhizomes of honey fungus on a standing dead trunk.  We found saprotrophic fungi such as coral spot in a recently felled area, shot holes in laurel and (although we didn’t see any symptoms) discussed Dutch elm disease and mountain ash ringspot virus.

With a little bit of time at the end of the walk, we headed up to Wharton Park.  This municipal park contrasts to the woodland, as trees are more often exotic or cultivated varieties grown as individual specimens, with many showing strange grafting patterns.

Thank you to everybody who came and I hope we can hold another event soon!

East Midlands mentoring day

Our East Midlands group gathered on a damp October morning with Charles Lane for a walk around a wood to hone their survey and reporting skills. Despite the weathers best efforts a valuable day was had by all who attended and similar sentiment to those from other groups were expressed. Another event success for the season!

A huge thank you to those who attended one of our mentoring days in 2019, both staff and volunteers and thanks for all of your feedback. We will be sure to take your comments on board and as we roll into 2020 we can look forward to another great year of tree surveying and volunteer development. 

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