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Research hub to receive £4m to tackle pests and pathogens threatening trees

The Emerald ash borer beetle has been wreaking havoc in North America (Defra/PA)
The Emerald ash borer beetle has been wreaking havoc in North America (Defra/PA)

Britain’s leading forest research centre will receive £4 million from the Government to help tackle pests and pathogens threatening trees across the country.

The Environment Department (Defra) said the funding will pay for a research and containment facility at the UK’s Forest Research Alice Holt Research Station in Surrey.

This will expand the capacity of the existing Holt laboratory by almost double and boost researchers’ capability to study tree disease-spreading beetles, Defra added.

It comes as statistics released by Forest Research on Saturday show there were 2,350 tree pests and diseases reported through the TreeAlert service between April 2023 and March 2024.

Climate change is causing a rise in the number of pests seen in recent years, including an increase in the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle Ips typographus as well as ongoing responses to Phytophthora ramorum and oak processionary moth.

Defra said that by assessing the pests and pathogens in a contained laboratory, scientists from Forest Research will be able to study them in a safe and controlled manner using cutting-edge technology and equipment.

Trees
Experts say trees must be protected as they play a vital role in the fight against climate change (PA)

The laboratory will also help prepare for known threats which are not currently present in the UK.

This includes the Emerald ash borer – an exotic green beetle from Asia which caused significant damage to ash trees in North America – and Xylella, a bacterial disease which has devastated olive trees in France and Italy.

Biosecurity minister Lord Douglas-Miller said: “We are committed to protecting the country’s tree health and maintaining biosecurity to ensure our trees and woodlands are resilient to fight climate change.

“Building on the existing vital work of Alice Holt will be a key part to achieving this.”

Sir William Worsley, Forestry Commission chairman, said: “Trees and woodlands support our wellbeing and are home to some of our most treasured species. They play an important role in tackling climate change.

“It is vital that we expand our research to counter new tree health outbreaks which are a threat to our nation’s trees.”

The funding is part of Government action towards its five-year plant biosecurity strategy, which aims to protect the country’s plants from risks posed by pests and pathogens.