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Nick Birch

Staff picture: Nick Birch
Ecological Sciences
Ecological Sciences
Senior Research Entomologist
nick.birch@hutton.ac.uk
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Invergowrie
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK

 

Prof. Nick Birch  is a key staff member leading Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPM) research at the James Hutton Institute.

For details of ongoing IPM research areas and projects, please visit the IPM@Hutton website

Long-term research goals

Policy led environmental research with practical outcomes for global agriculture:

I develop and use a multi-disciplinary, ecosystems approach to optimise key ecological services (Integrated Pest Management/IPM, biocontrol) for Scottish, UK and international crop protection, conserving and utilising on-farm biodiversity.

By understanding the role of biodiversity in agro-ecosystems, key functional groups of predators and parasitoids are being enhanced using novel biocontrol techniques, to reduce the need for pesticides under policy  91/414 EEC.

On-farm floral biodiversity is also being enhanced in agro-ecosystems to promote both biocontrol and pollination of crops. A raspberry-legume on farm research platform has been set up for long-term studies with Dr P. Iannetta and Dr G. Begg (The James Hutton Institute), Dr N. Sotherton (Game Conservancy and Wildlife Trust),  and Prof S. Wratten (Agriculture and Life Sciences Faculty, Lincoln University, New Zealand).

Current research contracts and grants:

I coordinate the James Hutton Institute IPM research for two new EU and one new Defra Hortlink funded projects, starting 2010-11. Total grant award value is > £10 million.

I lead and manage several externally funded projects (Scandinavian, EU and UK) with a total value to the James Hutton Institute of > £1.4 million (2005-2016).

  • EU PURE: I coordinate the James Hutton Institute's scientific inputs on development of IPM for major crops in Europe. Total project value £12 million.
  • AHDC SCEPTRE: I co-lead the UK entomology inputs on development of IPM for fruit and vegetable crops. Total value to the James Hutton Institute £100K 
  • I co-lead IPM research in the EU project AMIGA, developing novel ways to assess the biosafety and use of GM crops more sustainably within Integrated Pest Management systems. Total value to the James Hutton Institute £400,000.
  • TSB (breeding soft fruit with new pest resitance traits based on physical barriers): I am a specialist entomology advisor on raspberry pests and related IPM for this project.
  • Defra Hortlink: Developing Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPDM) for Protected Raspberries. Role: The James Hutton Institute entomology leader. Total value £1.3 million.
  • Bioforsk, Norwegian Government: Developing sustainable IPDM for vegetable crucifers.  Role: The James Hutton Institute chemical ecology leader. Total value £1.7 million.
  • AHDB/HDC: SAC and James Hutton Institute PhD. Developing novel control strategies for cabbage root fly. Role: Consultant The James Hutton Institute. Total value £113,000.
  • IP development and technology transfer: One of first SCRI patent holders (natural product pesticides from wild legumes; 13 regional and worldwide patents with BTG, 1988-94).
  • Co-developer of first SCRI comercial IPM technology for raspberry growers (raspberry beetle trap; first SCRI commercial IPM product, launched 2009 for growers and 2010 for gardeners).

Honorary positions

  • Nominated expert for EU European Innovation Partnership ‘Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability’ focus group on Integrated Pest Management: Brassica field vegetables (from January 2014)
  • Visiting Professor and International Scholar, Division of Entomology, University of Idaho, USA
  • Panel member for EFSA (GMO biosafety; non-target impacts)
  • Fellow of Royal Entomological Society, London
  • Fellow of Linnean Society, London
  • Lecturer, Dundee University
  • Science Ambassador, Scotland
  • Co-Convenor, International Organisation for Biological Control
  • Committee Member, LEAF Scotland Advisory Group

Current research interests

Agroecology systems studies (fundamental to applied)

Sustainable use of functional biodiversity (ecological services - focus topic biocontrol as part of Integrated Pest Management) to meet challenges of climate change, environmental impacts of new crop protection strategies (reducing pesticide usage, developing more durable pest-resistant crops, semiochemicals, enhanced biocontrol of pests) and changing food security issues.Photograph of raspberry beetle trap

My research delivers practical outcomes and policy aides for sustainable agriculture which is faced with challenges of climate change, food security and pesticide reductions.

Examples include:

a) Novel IPM for soft fruit and field vegetables Integrated Pest Management) tools for minimising pesticide applications and promoting functional biodiversity in agro-ecosystems  (biocontrol agents, pollinators, soil health). I now lead and coordinate a major EU funding bid for The James Hutton Institute  (12 million euros) as part of an international consortium to develop new IPM strategies for major crops in Europe. This is the largest single EU agriculture project, because IPM is now central to the EU's crop protection policies under 91/414/EEC.

Image of the cover of the GMO ERA Project final reportb) GM environmental risk:benefit asessment methods for EU and developing countries. A multi-disciplinary approach centred around chemical ecology has been developed at The James Hutton Institute, involving international collaborations in UK, Norway, France, Switzerland, Brazil, Kenya and Vietnam.

The ecological methods underpinning this GM research over more than 10 years have more recently been generalised to study multi-trophic interactions in food webs (raspberries grown in fields versus protected tunnels) and also to optimise IPM strategies for major crops including vegetable crucifers, soft fruit and cereals.

Approach and implementation:

Chemical ecology of insect-plant interactions leading to ecosystem services for sustainable agriculture (Scottish Government WP 1.3., 1.7).

My IPM expertise and experience  includes research on legumes, vegetable brassicas, maize (GM with Bt gene), potato, tomato and  soft fruit (blackcurrant, raspberry, strawberry).

  • Crop protection systems based on IPDM: High value and health-promoting soft fruit (Scottish Government WP 1.3, Defra Hortlink); Potato (CPC germplasm evalauation for pest resistance; chemical ecology with SLU); Arable / biodiversity interactions (Scottish Government WP 1.7, LEAF).
  • Multi-trophic interactions, focussing on  climate change and novel crop protection strategies: Plant metabolic responses to insect attack, linking above-below ground interactions, genetic resistance to pests  and biocontrol (Scottish Government WP 1.7, Bioforsk collaborations, 2007-2013). Model crops studied: Soft fruit, crucifers.Photograph showing Bt maize in Kenya
  • Developing strategies for Integrated Pest Management (Scottish Government WP 1.3, Defra Hortlink, LEAF Scotland and UK, Bioforsk).
  • Lead SCRI Hortlink research ‘Integrated Pest and Disease Management for High Quality Protected Raspberry Production’ (Defra).
  • IOBC convenorships of International Working Groups:  (i) 'Breeding for Pest and disease Resistance' (IOBC wprs); (ii) 'GMO Environmental Risk Assessment' (IOBC Global).
  • GM environmental risk:benefit and biosafety policy formulation: EU Legal Department, EU Plant Sciences Committee, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (GM crop case studies in Kenya, Brazil, and Vietnam - three CABI books and invited Royal Society of Chemistry  review; resulting in eight policy-related  refereed reviews and book chapters; see below).
  • Member of Scottish Steering Committee, LEAF  (Linking Environment and Farming).
  • Lecturer for Dundee University: BSc Hons (final year): 'Sustainable Pest Management'.
  • PhD examiner for Dundee University, Durham University, Caridiff University, SLU Uppsala, Lincoln University, New Zealand. Photograph showing recording from raspberry beetle antenna
  • Science Ambassador and Techfest Scotland presenter: Schools (nursery-Advanced Higher, university, public understanding of science, agriculture policy, knowledge transfer.
  • Technology transfer: Developing and promoting sustainable IPDM strategies for UK, EU and developing country farmers.

Past research

  • Soft Fruit Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPDM) – Plant Breeding for Pest Resistance; Use of semiochemicals in IPDM; Biocontrol agents; Sustainable Crop Protection with minal pesticides.Photograph of 2-spot ladybirds eating aphids
  • Insect-plant ecology – Above-below ground interactions utilising molecular ecology, chemical ecology and insect behaviour (model cropping systems: raspberry, crucifers).
  • Tri-trophic modelling for optimal deployment of pest-resistant GM crops (Defra).
  • GM crop biosafety: Co- coordinator of Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation / ETH, Zurich / University of Minnesota 'GMO Guidelines Project' : Section leader: Non target Impacts Assessments in Kenya, Brazil, Vietnam.
  • EU Consultative Expert on Bt and other pest-resistant GM crops.
  • EU Scientific Evaluator (FP5,6,7).Scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of raspberry aphid
  • International collaborations with ETH Zurich; University of Minnesota; ICIPE, Kenya; EMBRAPA, Brazil; Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Vietnam; National Environmental Research Institute, Denmark; INRA, France; Bioforsk, Norway; Agroscope Switzerland.

Bibliography

  • Isaacs, R.; Birch, A.N.E.; Martin, R.R., (2017) IPM case studies: berry crops., In: van Emden, H.F. & Harrington, R. (eds.). Aphids as Crop Pests, 2nd edition. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Oxon, Chapter 31, pp620-631.
  • Gordon, S.C.; Birch, A.N.E.; Williams, R.N., (2017) Raspberry aphids., In: Martin, R.R., Ellis, M.A., Williamson, B. & Williams, R.N. (eds.). Compendium of Raspberry and Blackberry Diseases and Pests. American Phytopathological Society, St Paul, USA, 2nd edition. Part II Arthropod Pests, Insects that Damage Foliage, pp111-112.
  • Williams, R.N.; Birch, A.N.E.; Gordon, S.C., (2009) Raspberry fruitworm., In: Ellis, M.A., Converse, R.H., Williams, R.N. & Williamson, B. (eds.). Compendium of Raspberry and Blackberry Diseases and Pests, American Phytopathological Society, USA
  • Andow, D.A.; Van, Tuat, N.; Hilbeck, A.; Underwood, E.; Birch, A.N.E.; Tam, D.Q.; Fitt, G.P.; Giband, M.; West, J.J.; Lang, A.; Quyen, L.Q.; Hong, LT.T.; Lovei, G.L.; Nelson, K.C.; So'n, N.H.; Huan, N.H.; Hai, N.T.; Cuc, N.T.T.; Huynh, N.V.; Uyen, N.V.; Van Lam, P.; VanToan, P.; Sujii, E.R.; Hao, T.A.; Hoa, T.T.C.; Quang, V.D.; Wheatley, R.E.; Wilson, L.J., (2008) Challenges and opportunities with Bt cotton in Vietnam: Synthesis and recommendations., In: Andow, D.A., Hilbeck, A. & Van Tuât, N. (eds.). Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms, Volume 4, Challenges and Opportunities with Bt Cotton in Vietnam. CABI International Press, Wallingford, Chapter 13, 330-344.
  • Hilbeck, A.; Arpaia, S.; Birch, A.N.E.; Chen, Y.; Fontes, E.M.G.; Lang, A.; Hong, LT.T.; Lovei, G.L.; Manchini, B.; Cuc, N.T.T.; Van Huynh, N.; Van Tuat, N.; Van Lam, P.; Van Toan, P.; Pires, C.S.S.; Sujii, E.R.; Lai, T.K.; Underwood, E.; Wheatley, R.E.; Wilson, L.J.; Zwahlen, C.; Andow, D.A., (2008) Non-target impacts and biological diversity risk assessment., In: Andow, D.A., Hilbeck, A. & Van Tuât, N. (eds.). Environmental Risk Assessment of GMO's, Volume 4. Challenges and Opportunites with Bt cotton in Vietnam. CABI, Wallingford, Chapter 5, 115-137.
  • Van Huynh, N.; Birch, A.N.E.; Songa, J.; Van Dynh, N.; Lam, T.T., (2008) Potential effects of transgenic cotton on non-target insect parasitoids in Vietnam., In: Hilbeck, A., Andow, D.A. & Van Tuât, N. (eds.). Environmental Risk Assessment of GMO's, Volume 4. Challenges and Opportunites with Bt cotton in Vietnam. CABI, Wallingford, Chapter 8, 212-235.
  • Andow, D.A.; Fontes, E.M.G.; Hilbeck, A.; Johnston, J.; Capalbo, D.M.F.; Nelson, K.C.; Underwood, E.; Fitt, G.P.; Sujii, E.R.; Arpaia, S.; Birch, A.N.E.; Pallini, A.; Wheatley, R.E., (2006) Supporting risk assessment of Bt cotton in Brazil: synthesis and recommendations., In: Hillbeck, A., Andow, D.A. & Fontes, E.M.G. (eds). Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms. Volume 2: Methodologies for Assessing Bt Cotton in Brazil. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Chapter 13, pp346-361.
  • Pallini, A.; Silvie, P.; Monnerat, R.; Ramalho, F.; Songa, J.M.; Birch, A.N.E.;, (2006) Non-target and biodiversity impacts on parasitoids., In: Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms, Volume 2: Methodologies for assessing Bt cotton in Brazil (eds. A. Hilbeck, D.A. Andow and E.M.G. Fontes). CABI Publishing, Wallingford, pp200-224.
  • Hilbeck, A.; Andow, D.A.; Arpaia, S.; Birch, A.N.E.; Fontes, EM.G.; Lovei, G.; Sujii, E.; Wheatley, R.E.; Underwood, E., (2006) Methodology to support non-target and biodiversity risk assessment., In: Hillbeck, A., Andow, D.A. & Fontes, E.M.G. (eds). Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms. Volume 2: Methodologies for Assessing Bt Cotton in Brazil. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Chapter 5, pp108-132.
  • Birch, A.N.E.; Wheatley, R.E., (2005) GM pest-resistant crops: Assessing environmental impacts on non-target organisms., In: Hester, R.E. (ed.). Sustainability in Agriculture. Royal Society for Chemistry, London, pp31-57.
  • Monerat, R.; Ramalho, F.; Pallini, A.; Songa, J.; Birch, A.N.E., (2004) GMO Guidelines Project., In: Contana Capalbo, D.M. & Fontes, E.M.G. (eds.). Parasitóides. Embrapa Publication, Documentos 38. Brazil, pp28-30.
  • Hilbeck, A.; Andow, D.A.; Birch, A.N.E.; Fitt, G.; Johnston, J.; Nelson, K.; Osir, E.; Songa, J.; Underwood, E.; Wheatley, R.E., (2004) Risk assessment of Bt maize in Kenya: Synthesis and recommendations., In: Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms Volume 1: A Case Study of Bt Maize in Kenya (eds. A. Hilbeck and D.A. Andow, D.A). CABI International, Wallingford, pp251-269.
  • Birch, A.N.E.; Wheatley, R.E.; Anyango, B.; Arpaia, S.; Capalbo, D.M.F.; Getu, Degaga E.; Fontes, E.M.G.; Kalama, P.; Lelman, E.; Lovei, G.; Melo, I.S.; Muyekhof, F.; Ngi-Song, A.; Ochieno, D.; Ogwang, J.; Pitelli, R.; Schuler, T.; Setamou, M.; Sithanantham, S.; Smith, J.; Van Songa, J.; Sujii, E.; Tan, T.Q.W.; Hilbeck, A., (2004) Biodiversity and non-target impacts: a case study of Bt maize in Kenya., In: Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms Volume 1: A Case Study of Bt maize in Kenya (eds. A. Hilbeck and D.A. Andow). CABI International, Wallingford, Chapter 1, pp117-185.
  • Hilbeck, A.; Birch, A.N.E., (2003) The GMO Guidelines Project: Development of International Scientific Environmental Biosafety Guidelines for Transgenic Plants., In: Ehler, L.E., Sforza, R. & Mateille, T. (eds.). Genetics, Evolution and Biological Control. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Oxon, Chapter 10, pp207-218.
  • Chudek, J.A.; Geoghegan, I.E.; Hunter, G.; MacKay, R.L.; Majerus, M.E.N.; Moritz, S.; McNicol, R.J.; Birch, A.N.E., (1998) MRM, an alternative approach to the study of host/parasitoid relationships in insects., In: Blumler, P., Blumich, B., Botto, R. & Fukushima, E. (eds.). Spatially Resolved Magnetic Resonance; Methods and Applications in Material Science, Agriculture and Biomedicine. Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH, Weinheim, Germany, Chapter 44, pp467-471.

  • Brooker, R.; Aalders, I.H.; Ballingall, K.; Begg, G.; Birch, A.N.E.; Elliott, G.; Ellis, C.; Freitag, T.; Hawes, C.; Holland, J.; Holmes, B.; Hough, R.L.; Karley, A.; McCracken, D.; Mitchell, R.; Stockan, J.; Zadoks, R.; Albon, S.A.; Hester, A.J.; Pakeman, R.J., (2013) Biotic and biophysical underpinning of ecosystem services in the Scottish context: a review., Published online as an outputs from WP 1.1 of the Ecosystem Services Theme of the SRP.
  • Matthews, K.B.; Artz, R.R.E.; Birch, A.N.E.; Blackstock, K.L.; Brooker, R.; Brown, I.; Cummins, R.; Flanigan, S.; Hallet, P.; Irvine, R.J.; Kenyon, W.; Pakeman, R.J., Prager, K.; Slee, B.; Squire, G.; Stutter, M.; Sutherland, L.; Thomson, K.; Towers, W.; Vinten, A.J.A., (2012) Developing agri-environmental measures for the next Scottish Rural Development Programme: a summary of relevant research findings from the James Hutton Institute., Report to the Scottish Government, Natural Resources Division, SRDP Technical Working Group (Agri-Environment), 11pp, 25 June 2012.
  • Birch, A.N.E.; Shepherd, T., (2010) Integrated pest and disease management for high quality raspberry production., Defra Horticulture LINK Annual Report, 85pp.
  • Shepherd, T.; Birch, AN.E., (2010) Fooling the bugs - using plant volatiles as chemo-attractants in integrated pest management schemes., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2009, pp41-42.
  • Wheatley, R.E.; Hawes, C.; Daniell, T.J.; Birch, A.N.E., (2006) Management impacts on arable diversity and function., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2006, pp40-41.
  • Griffiths, B.S.; Birch, A.N.E.; Caul, S.; Thompson, J., (2004) Belowground effects of transgenic maize., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2003/2004, pp162-163.
  • Birch, A.N.E.; Boag, B.; Newton, A.C.; Gordon, S.C.; Fenton, B.; Malloch, G.; Hallett, P.D.; Iannetta, P.P.M.; Stephens, S.E.; Neilson, S.; Wright, G.M.; Marshall, B.; McKenzie, B.M.; Squire, G.R.; Gill, P.; Wheatley, R.E., (2004) The SCRI LEAF Innovation Centre: Agro-ecosystem research which develops and promotes sustainable agriculture strategies and policies for Scotland, UK and Europe., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2003/2004, pp107-114.
  • Fenton, B.; Birch, A.N.E.; Clyne, C.; Kasprowicz, L.; Malloch, G.; Mitchell, C.; Gordon, S.C., (2004) No sex please - we're British aphids., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2003/2004, pp164-166.
  • Birch, A.N.E.; Hillier, J.; Squire, G.R., (2003) A generic mathematical model for the integrated management of a crop containing anti feedant transgenes.., DEFRA Project Report.
  • Birch, A.N.E.; Begg, G.S.; Brennan, R.M.; Fenton, B.; Gordon, S.C.; Griffiths, B.S.; Griffiths, D.W.; Hillier, J.; Malloch, G.; Squire, G.R.; Wheatley, R.E., (2002) Developing sustainable pest management strategies for a changing future., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2001/2002, pp184-189.
  • Fenton, B.; Malloch, G.L.; Brennan, R.M.; Birch, A.N.E., (2002) Evolution and adaptation of insects and mites to vegetation systems., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2000/2001, pp144-147.
  • Shepherd, T.; Robertson, G.W.; Griffiths, D.W.; Birch, AN.E., (2000) Plants and aphids: the chemical ecology of infestation., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 1999/2000
  • Gordon, S.C.; Woodford, J.A.T.; Williamson, B.; Birch, A.N.E.; Jones, A.T., (2000) Progress towards Integrated Crop Management (ICM) for European raspberry production., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 1998/99, 153-156.
  • Hillier, J.; Hawes, C.; Squire, G.R.; Birch, A.N.E., (2000) Production and diversity in multi-trophic systems., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 1999/2000, pp176-179.
  • Birch, A.N.E., (1999) Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Plants on Bt-resistance monitoring., Technical Report for European Commission DGXXIV Consumer Policy and Consumer Health protection Committee on Plants.
  • Cooke, D.E.L.; Birch, A.N.E.; Birch, P.R.J.; Duncan, J.M.; Griffiths, D.W.; Lyon, G.D.; Trudgill, D.L.; Williamson, B.; Wilson, T.M.A.; Hillman, J.R., (1998) Are diseased and blemished foodstuffs good for you? The need for plant pathology., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 1997/98, pp54-60.

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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.