Observatree Summer Round Up

Observatree Summer Round Up

A busy summer of Observatree activity has seen us out and about up and down the country from shows and events to pest and disease surveys we have certainly had our hands full. Here is just a brief summary of what we have been up to and some of the highlights from the last few months.

June

June saw Observatree attend a Scottish Parliamentary reception on citizen science. Observatree lead volunteer Meaghan Henry tells us more:

On June 5th, citizen scientists and professionals from various environmental and conservation organisations across Scotland were in attendance to discuss the role of citizen science within their projects. The key note speakers all spoke about how citizen science is important and integral to not only their projects but also for many public bodies. This is because it actively involves members of the public to be the eyes on the ground, collecting more data and allowing small teams to achieve more.

Scottish Parliament building
Mary and Angus Hogg / The Scottish Parliament Building / CC BY-SA 2.0

The reception featured the citizen science projects of each organisation, this included Observatree. Attendees and fellow citizen scientists were intrigued by the work done by Observatree volunteers. There were a lot of questions and discussion around the work that Observatree does and how it helps to monitor tree health. Many of those I spoke to did not realise the extent of the threats to British woodlands by pests and diseases. Attendees were both impressed and enthused by the work and contribution Observatree volunteers are making to citizen science and most importantly to protecting our trees, forests and woodlands.

One of the most interesting projects of the evening was the flood level monitoring featured by SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency). With the increase in flood risk to homes and businesses, due to environmental factors such as deforestation and increased precipitation, communities at risk are given access to live flood risk data from water level monitors.

 The monitors provide data on whether there is a current risk of flooding or not.  The network relies in part on community and citizen science to help manage the monitors and the data they collect. I thought this was a great example of how citizen science and community involvement can make a difference and provide support to professional teams.

Overall the reception showcased how citizen science can help to collect much needed data and analysis for partner organisations and projects, which would not be possible otherwise. The positive and receptive attitude by those at various environmental and conservation organisations in attendance both inspired and motivated the citizen scientists present.

July

In July Observatree was called into action to support 2 of the partner organisations in their response to recent OPM (Oak Proccessionary Moth) outbreaks  within the South East region, Volunteer Manager Charlotte Armitage shares the details.

Oak Processionary Moth (OPM) is of growing concern in the world of tree health and Observatree volunteers have been coming together to try and help partner organisations tackle this pest. 

Oak Processionary Moth - Credit Forestry Commission

This year therefore the Woodland Trust and National Trust have teamed up and are utilising the Observatree volunteers and their expert training.  Local volunteers in Greater London and the South East who expressed an interest have been assigned high priority sites close to their homes. The volunteers have two major tasks:

  • If the site is known to have OPM they need to go and survey and alert site staff to the location and heights of nests so the correct management decisions can be made with regards to the public.
  • If the site is not thought to have OPM then site staff need to be alerted as soon as possible if it does arrive to limit spread, so Observatree volunteers will be carrying out surveys as part of an early warning system.

The work of the volunteers is of vital importance to staff that might not have the time or resource to look for this pest themselves. The use of Observatree volunteers in this way illustrates how highly regarded they are for their skills and expertise. 

OPM which is predominately based around London and the surrounding areas not only has implications for public health and our native oak trees but also poses a problem for landowners. This is especially true of the Woodland Trust and National Trust whose sites and properties experience heavy footfall during the year. Imagine enjoying a picnic under a majestic oak tree not knowing hairy caterpillars were just above your head. OPM has toxic hairs which have the ability to cause nasty skin rashes, and the hairs can remain toxic in the environment for up to five years.

We decided to kick off this partnership with a networking event on the 9th of July held at the beautiful National Trust venue Osterley Park. Woodland Trust and National Trust staff attended, along with the Observatree volunteers who will be surveying for OPM. The morning started with a presentation about the Observatree project to set the context for site staff. Then Jeremy Dalton the ranger at Osterley Park gave an insightful talk about the life cycle of OPM, management, and some of the research they are undertaking. We then had a long lunch break to allow staff to meet the volunteers that had been assigned to their sites and for networking opportunities. There was lots of chatter over lunch and that element of the day was truly a success.

In the afternoon we went out into the park to see OPM in the field and to learn a bit more about this pest. This session really demonstrated why we need to be vigilant with this pest, the sheer number of OPM nests was astounding and this is a site where they are actively removed during the season. This is why it is so important that we try and limit its spread and keep it contained in the core zone in London, and why the work of the Observatree network is so important.

A special thank you to Thomas Hill and Jeremy Dalton for organising the day.

That’s not all we have been up to though; if you were at the Royal Welsh Show during the hottest week of July then you might have spotted us at the Forest Research stand sweating it out. Even the heat couldn’t hold us back though and we spent a long time talking to members of the public and the forestry industry and gave out loads of our fantastic information over the 4 days.

September

We have stretched out the summer as much as we can this year and at our final show of the season, in the first week of September, Suzy and Charlotte attended the Confor show with our partners the Forestry Commission. This was held at Longleat so we couldn’t have asked for a nicer location. They really enjoyed talking to members of the public about Observatree and the threats of pests and diseases. And, as something a little different, they also had a number of school groups visit the stand. It was great to talk to younger people about the threats our trees are facing and start inspiring the next generation of citizen scientists.

It has been a busy few months across the whole project but things don’t stop just because summer is coming to an end. Keep an eye out for our future updates and we will keep you posted about all our ongoing activity in the coming months.

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