Protecting woodlands from epidemics

Trees provide economic, cultural and social ecosystem services to the UK of approximately £4.9 billion per year, with a total asset value of £175 billion, according to the UK Government’s England Tree Action Plan (2021-2024). However, Oak Processionary Moth, Sweet Chestnut Blight and the larger eight-toothed European spruce bark beetle are amongst recent introductions which, if not controlled, could have a devastating impact on forestry and tree landscapes. For instance, Ash die-back, caused by a fungus now widespread in the UK, threatens to destroy over 80% of the 185 million ash trees, with potential spread of the Emerald Ash Borer beetle to mainland Britain threatening further losses.

Cambridge researchers have built an epidemiological toolkit to help policymakers predict the status and future spread of tree diseases. Their models have been used to inform ministerial decisions on strategies such as an import ban to reduce risk, surveillance strategies to support outbreak management, and evaluation of potential control strategies to optimise the use of limited resources.

Added 14 November 2022; updated 9 May 2023.