Dr Stephen Cavers represents the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) on Scotland’s new Plant Health Centre – he explains more about the centre’s background and aims...

New pests and diseases pose a large and growing threat to many of our most valued plants, including potatoes, cereal crops and trees. As these plants underpin large parts of our economy and environment, it is of vital importance that we take action to minimise the risk of importing new problems, work towards building a more resilient landscape, and are prepared to handle outbreaks when they happen.

To address plant health issues important to Scotland, the Scottish Government has funded a new Plant Heath Centre that brings together expertise from across Scotland and the UK. The Centre was officially launched at a stakeholder event at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh in April. Importantly, the Centre includes experts in a range of different fields and institutions, meaning problems can be rapidly tackled with a diverse set of skills and knowledge.

"Importantly, the Centre includes experts in a range of different fields and institutions, meaning problems can be rapidly tackled with a diverse set of skills and knowledge."

Ten leading research organisations are involved: James Hutton Institute, Forest Research, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), the universities of Strathclyde, Exeter and Edinburgh, the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), the Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (BioSS), as well as the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. The Plant Health Centre will work closely with its partners at UK level and in the other devolved administrations.

CEH is playing a key role as part of the Science Advisory and Response Team (SART) – we are bringing our expertise in tree and plant health, disease modelling, and microbial ecology to the Centre.

Stephen Cavers, who investigates plant genetic diversity, adaptation and resilience, represents CEH on the Centre. He explains, "Plant health is a major issue around the world right now, because trees and plants underpin our economy and environment, and there is a growing awareness of the impact of global trade and a changing climate. The Plant Health Centre offers a great example of how to bring together knowledge and skills to tackle these important problems."

At the Centre’s launch in Edinburgh, Professor Ian Toth (James Hutton Institute), who is head of the Plant Health Centre, said, “Plant diseases don’t respect borders and cause problems across all plant species, from iconic forest trees to the smallest of wild flowers and taking in ornamentals, garden plants and all our crop species as they go.

"With thousands of plant species in Scotland and 1000 novel pests and diseases listed on the UK plant health risk register, there has never been a more crucial time to pool resources and bring scientists and stakeholders together to act.”

You can follow updates from the Plant Health Centre on Twitter @PlantHealthScot and via their website.

Additional information

The Plant Health Centre has produced its first newsletter (May 2018)

James Hutton Institute news about the Plant Health Centre

Forest Research news about the Plant Health Centre

Staff page of Dr Stephen Cavers, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology