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 considered a threat to the UK’s arable crops, trees, horticulture and wild plants. This makes it vital to adopt a co-ordinated approach to monitoring plant diseases, as well as helping stakeholders understand how to improve their own plant health capabilities.
To tackle these challenges, Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity has launched a new virtual Centre of Expertise for Plant Health funded by the Scottish Government.
The Centre will, for the first time, bring together key plant sectors within agriculture, forestry, horticulture and the environment to co-ordinate plant health needs and activities across Scotland. It will be headed up by the James Hutton Institute’s Professor Ian Toth, along with partners from Scotland’s Rural College, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Forest Research, Universities of Edinburgh, Stirling and Strathclyde, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland.
Working with the recently appointed Chief Plant Health Officer for Scotland, Professor Gerry Saddler from Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), it is hoped the Centre will become the front line for plant health and provide rapid advice across all sectors.
At the launch of the Centre, Mr 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.”
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.”
Many of the pests and diseases are of particular risk to Scotland given its unique landscape. Any outbreak could have significant economic damage and hit several sectors with little warning. However, with pest risk analysis managed centrally by the Centre and access to a panel of advisors as and when required, Scotland now has the necessary infrastructure to manage plant health threats in a proportionate way.