Scotland launches plant health centre to strengthen crop resilience

Launch of Scotland's Centre of Expertise for Plant Health (Photo: SASA)
Launch of Scotland's Centre of Expertise for Plant Health (Photo: SASA)

A new plant health centre has been launched in Scotland to shine a light on the essential role plants play in every day lives, from the economics of timber to crop production.

The plant, Scotland's Centre of Expertise for Plant Health, will also highlight the potential for harm from pests and diseases.

Besides the many pests and pathogens that currently infect plants, there are over 900 others that could pose a threat to the UK’s arable crops, trees, horticulture and wild plants.

Scotland's Centre of Expertise for Plant Health said 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, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Forest Research.

Of all potential threats to the UK, the Centre will focus on those of highest risk to Scotland, taking into account the climate and the plants of most importance to Scotland’s economy and social wellbeing.

Economic losses

For example, one of the 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 major plant species under 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.”

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.”