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2020: International Year of Plant Health

Author:  John Parker
Last Updated:  27/05/2020

John Parker, Technical Director

 International Year of Plant Health

Whilst human health has understandably and quite rightly been on top of the international agenda in recent weeks and months, 2020 is of course also the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) and the Arboricultural Association has been getting involved on behalf of trees, our members and the UK arboricultural industry.

2020 was designated IYPH by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and is intended to create an opportunity to raise awareness and promote the importance of biosecurity and plant health measures. The UN has highlighted the risk of plant pests by releasing figures to show that, in purely economic terms, plant diseases cost the global economy around 220 billion US dollars annually, with invasive insects adding another 70 billion US dollars to the total. Jingyuan Xia, Secretary of the International Plant Protection Convention, has said that

“The International Year of Plant Health is a key initiative to highlight the importance of plant health to enhance food security, protect the environment and biodiversity, and boost economic development.”

In the UK, IYPH activities are being led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Animal and Plant Health Agency and the Forestry Commission, with input from key stakeholders such as the Arboricultural Association. In terms of public engagement, five key messages have been given to the general public: 1) Take care of plants at home and in the office; 2) Buy responsibly; 3) Don’t bring back plants from abroad; 4) Report any unusual symptoms on trees and plants; and 5) Clean your boots. This is all on top of existing work on public awareness of plant health such as the Forestry Commission’s ‘Keep it Clean’ and Defra’s ‘Don’t Risk It’ campaigns.

One of the flagship IYPH events in the UK was the Plant Health and Biosecurity Conference, held in February in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. A summary of the current state of play on trees and biosecurity risks was given by some distinguished speakers including Sir Nicholas Bacon (Chair of the Plant Health Alliance and President of the Royal Horticultural Society), Nicola Spence (UK Chief Plant Health Officer), Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity), Geraint Richards (Head Forester at the Duchy of Lancaster) and Adam Frost (Adam Frost Design and BBC Gardeners’ World). Also present was Ralf Lopian, Chief Plant Health Officer for Finland and the person who originally proposed that 2020 should be designated IYPH.

This engaging international event concluded with a speech from the guest of honour, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Prince Charles has long been passionate about environmental matters and has proven himself a strong ally to our profession. In his speech he raised some of the issues which concern him most:

“There are now more than 1000 pests and diseases on the United Kingdom’s Plant Health Risk Register; the rapid movement of people and products around the world shows no sign of abating as I discovered visiting Heathrow airport last year, and, perversely, management practices increasingly seem to favour disastrously vulnerable monocultures over the resilience that comes from diversity.”

An Association Tree Health Day, co-badged with our colleagues at the Institute of Chartered Foresters, was scheduled to be held at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, in March of this year but was unfortunately postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This event would have included a great line-up of speakers from the industry presenting about topics such as Massaria, chestnut blight, managing pests and diseases at Longleat Safari Park and an interesting perspective from Nicola Cannon, an Associate Professor at the University, looking at biosecurity in agriculture. The good news is that we are planning to reschedule this event for the autumn – please check our website for further details.

We also hope that in 2020 the Association will publish two new books about fungi, one by Professor Lynne Boddy entitled Fungi and Trees: Their Complex Relationships and the other by David Humphries and Chris Wright called Fungi and Trees: A Guide to Identification. Publication dates may be delayed due to the current COVID-19 restrictions.

On 13 February a debate took place in the House of Lords in which Lord Framlingham highlighted the importance of professionals and experts in the fight for tree health:

“It is important to recognise and make full use of the expertise in tree care provided by organisations such as the Arboricultural Association … [it] has its finger on the pulse of tree health in this country like no other organisation.”

Whilst this might have been overly-generous when we consider our colleagues who work in organisations such as Forest Research and Defra, the Association and its members certainly have a critical role to play. It is hugely regrettable that so many of the events planned for this IYPH have fallen victim to the Coronavirus pandemic, from the Plant Health Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show to our own Tree Health Day. However, tree health and biosecurity must and will not be forgotten, and we continue to work with our partners and stakeholders to raise awareness of the issue.

This article was taken form Issue 189 Summer 2020 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.