Scientific challenge

Trees face a variety of challenges to their health from many different threats, often at the same time. To find a sustainable long-term strategy for keeping our trees healthy, the range of real and potential threats to tree health needs to be considered, along with the trees' potential to adapt. This not only includes recognising important pests and pathogens, but also understanding how trees are adapted to cope with these threats and other pressures resulting from climate change and habitat fragmentation.

These issues need to be understood in a physical, social and economic context so that workable management options can be identified.

Scots pine tree by a roadside and a lake

“Trees face a whole range of problems – more new pests and diseases, climate change and forest fragmentation. These challenges are connected, so it is essential we try to understand them together if we want to protect tree health in the long term.”

Dr Stephen Cavers, an ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) site in Edinburgh and leader of the PROTREE project.

Project overview

The project "Promoting resilience of UK tree species to novel pests and pathogens: ecological and evolutionary solutions (PROTREE)" aims to find sustainable approaches for securing tree health through research on the ecology and evolution of tree species and their pests and pathogens, and their social and economic context.

Watch a short film explaining PROTREE's aims:

PROTREE film (2015) from Wild Leaf Reels on Vimeo.

Case study of an iconic native species

Using the example of Scots pine, an important native tree species, this project will assess variation and evolution in three key threat species:

  • the Dothistroma needle blight fungus
  • pine-tree lappet moth
  • pine pitch canker fungus

It will explore the role of associated communities and the extent of genetic variation in determining Scots pine's resistance to these threats and, using new and existing field trials, measure the extent to which Scots pine populations may be able to adapt. At the same time, by working with people who manage and use trees, and with the public, the researchers hope to find ways to use the new biological information to facilitate socially desirable change in practical forest management.

Other tree species

Scots pine and double rainbow at Beinn Eighe, Scotland

Although Scots pine will be the case study species, the objective of the project is to create a practical way to gather similar information in other tree species, establishing transferable experimental protocols and an open access online database. This will lay the groundwork for bringing together information on health issues for all of the UK's important tree species, and ultimately help to improve the resilience of forests across the country. 

“Although there are many threats, trees are adaptable and resilient.” Dr Cavers said. “We can use that adaptability to help our trees to cope with changes in the future.”

Project partners

The project is led by:

Dr Stephen Cavers, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. Tel: 0131 445 8552

and is a consortium with the following partners:

  • Dr Joan Cottrell, Forest Research, Northern Research Station
  • Prof Richard Ennos, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Glenn Iason, James Hutton Institute
  • Prof Steve Woodward, University of Aberdeen
  • Dr Peter Hoebe, Scotland’s Rural College
  • Dr Chris Ellis and Dr Jo Taylor, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The project is funded by the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative, under the auspices of the Living with Environmental Change Partnership with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Economic and Social Research Council, Forestry Commission, Natural Environment Research Council and the Scottish Government.

News and outputs

Screengrab from CALEDON - a virtual forest survival strategy game

CALEDON tree management computer sim - download or play online

Read a news story about CALEDON: Computer game teaches tree health lessons

Details of the PROTREE initiative were originally revealed at a launch event on 25 March 2014.


Media enquiries about this work should be addressed to the CEH Press Office. General enquiries can be sent via our Enquiries Desk.

PROTREE project website

Related links

Principal Investigator