03 AM | 15 May

British Trees Act as ‘Early Warning System’ for Plant Pests and Diseases


Trees‘Beyond our Borders’, a Chelsea garden shows how British trees can serve as an ‘early warning system’ to detect invasive plant species, pests, and diseases that may harm the environment. Paul Beales, the head of Plant Health Public Engagement at the Animal and Plant Health Agency says that ‘the garden represents the need for us to work together and share information and knowledge on an international scale.’

Sentinel trees

The garden is divided into three zones with their own climate; specifically being Australasian, Tropical, and Arid climates, and are separated by water features that act as ‘ocreans’. The three zones are filled with native plant species and a single British tree foreign to the environment right in the middle of the native plants. The purpose of putting these trees is to act as ‘sentinels’ and an early warning system for new plant diseases and pests. These trees are being monitored for damage by pests and other organisms only native to the specific zones, and will help provide important details relevant to plant health.

Some of the things this simulated garden addresses includes finding out possible threats to a country’s native plant species before being introduced, and limiting the introduction of threats to the health of plants brought about by quarantine lists. Additionally, ‘Beyond our Borders’ will also address and help improve eradication or control programs of new plant diseases and pests that can possible attack and even wipe out native plant life.

A simulation of pests and diseases

The design of the garden ‘Beyond our Borders’ is set to emulate how diseases and pests emerge and disappear so that decisive action will be taken to curb or wholly eliminate them. Within the garden’s three zones, there are colored springs and coils that represent plant diseases and pests. They appear and disappear periodically, and some are stretched across the ‘oceans’ in such a way that it creates a wave motion over the waters. Apart from the visuals, this is said to represent how diseases and pests that affect plants move between each zones in real life. The design shows one way governments are working together in an international setting that will protect each environment from pests and diseases alien to the biosphere.

‘The issue of the increase in the arrival, establishment, and spread of plant pests is a global one’ Paul Beales said, ‘largely due to international trade and travel, and needs to be tackled as such.’

In UK alone, a range of new plant diseases and pests have appeared that poses a great threat to trees and plant species native to the country, with the notable ones including the Oak Processionary Moth and the Ash dieback. These pests are not considered that grave of a threat in their home regions, and finding out which one can prey on these ‘sentinel’ trees is crucial to know what to watch out for and when to not bring plants back from abroad.