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New Centre of Expertise in Plant Health seeks to strengthen Scotland’s resilience

Launch of virtual Centre of Expertise in Plant Health (courtesy SASA)
"We are delighted the new Centre is underway, and we look forward to engaging with experts and stakeholders from all sectors of plant health to work together for the people of Scotland"

Plants play essential roles in our lives from recreation and tourism to the economics of timber and crop production. However, the potential for harm from pests and diseases is ever present. Besides the many pests and pathogens that currently infect our plants, there are over 900 others that could pose a threat to the UK’s arable crops, trees, horticulture and wild plants. This makes it vital to adopt a co-ordinated approach across sectors to monitoring plant diseases, as well as helping stakeholders understand how to improve their own plant health capabilities.

To tackle these challenges, the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) has provided funding to bring together a number of Scottish research organisations to establish  a new virtual Centre of Expertise for Plant Health.

Working with the recently appointed Chief Plant Health Officer for Scotland, Professor Gerry Saddler from Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), the Centre will bring together key plant sectors to co-ordinate plant health needs and activities across Scotland. It will be headed up by the James Hutton Institute, along with sector leads from Scotland’s Rural College (agriculture), Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (horticulture and environment) and Forest Research (forestry), together with partners from the universities of Edinburgh, Stirling and Strathclyde, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (BioSS), each bringing with them a range of skills from understanding public perceptions to long-term disease forecasting.

Of all potential threats to the UK, the Centre will focus on those of highest risk to Scotland, taking into account our climate and the plants of most importance to our economy and social wellbeing. For example, one of our major threats is the bacterial pathogen Xylella fastidiosa which can infect over 200 plant species worldwide and is currently causing huge economic losses in Italy, killing over a million olive trees and causing damage to other trees and flowering plants elsewhere in Europe.

For this and other threats, the Centre’s activities will include a focus on understanding possible routes of entry into Scotland, the ability to spread to and infect our major plant species under our climatic conditions, as well as the best methods for control and when to implement them. In addition, the Centre will work closely with stakeholders to understand and act on their priorities and concerns to protect Scotland into the future.

At the launch of the Centre, Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “Protecting Scotland from the environmental, economic and social consequences of plant pest and disease threats is becoming increasingly challenging. That is why I am pleased to announce the creation of the virtual centre of expertise for Plant Health.”

Professor Ian Toth, the Centre’s Director, commented: “We are delighted the new Centre is underway, and we look forward to engaging with experts and stakeholders from all sectors of plant health to work together for the people of Scotland. We have no doubts about the challenges ahead but we are hugely excited to be part of this new initiative”.

CONFOR’s National Manager for Scotland Jamie Farquhar said: “I’m delighted to hear this has come to fruition and I’m sure it will serve the rural industries well.”

NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick added: “Our climate is changing, and that brings challenges, and there is an increasing number of channels – internet trading, personal imports etc – that pose plant health risks.  We need to be ahead of the game and ready to combat these threats. We are therefore delighted that Scottish Government has today announced a Centre of Excellence for Plant Health which will keep Scotland’s crops in the best of health.” 

The creation of such a centre complements the existing portfolio covering Animal Health (EPIC) Climate Change (CxC) and Waters (CREW), all of which have been acclaimed by stakeholders.

Notes to editors:

The James Hutton Institute, Scotland's Rural College, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland are part of SEFARI (Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes), along with Moredun Research Institute and The Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen. SEFARI delivers the Scottish Government's five-year £250m Strategic Research Programme across food, land, agriculture and environment. This research spans a vast array, including plant and animal health, ecology, farming practice, soils, crops, biodiversity, water management, resilience of communities, nutrition and individual food choices. SEFARI's Centre for Knowledge Exchange & Impact is the vehicle through which enhanced Knowledge Exchange and Impact is delivered.

More information from: 

Nicola Strachan, Public Affairs Coordinator, James Hutton Institute, Tel: +44 (0)1382 568750 (direct line) or +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard).

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Printed from /news/new-centre-expertise-plant-health-seeks-strengthen-scotland%E2%80%99s-resilience on 20/10/19 07:51:58 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.