More than 50 professional gardeners and foresters from across Great Britain have been trained in detecting and managing pests and diseases which are threatening gardens, woodlands and the countryside.
They will now act as key contacts to cascade training and awareness within their own organisations, and could form part of a wider network being developed in response to the current outbreak of Chalara dieback of ash trees.
Led by The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), a wide consortium of organisations from the botanic and heritage gardens and public parks sectors completed training on plant and tree diseases and best practice in plant health and biosecurity.
"Our trees in particular are facing an unprecedented threat from pests and diseases, and it is vital that everybody - Government agencies and key non-Government organisations - work together to combat the threat," said Dr David Slawson, Head of Plant Health Public Engagement at Fera.
"Government cannot do this alone, and it is vital that we develop expertise in other organisations to help".
Workshops were held at the National Trust's Erddig garden near Wrexham; at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) gardens at Wisley and Harlow Carr; and concluded on Monday 26 November at The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
Ian Wright, the National Trust's lead on Plant Health said,
"Our gardens and woodlands have suffered attacks from a number of pests and diseases, and we have responded by making plant health a priority across the Trust. These workshops have created a new core group of knowledgeable staff who will embed best practice principles across the Trust's estate."
Dr John David, Chief Scientist at the RHS, added,
"Sadly, new pests and diseases can enter our gardens on imported plants, and escape into the countryside. For this reason, the country's gardeners have a major role to play in combating the spread of plant pests and diseases. As the UK's leading garden charity, the RHS aims to act as a role model to raise awareness of the issues with the nation's gardeners."
Dr David Knott, Curator of Living Collections at The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, said:
"Pests and diseases do not stop at country borders, so we applaud the extension of this training to Scotland and Wales."
Part of the Government's response to the Chalara ash dieback crisis is to develop a network of key people across Britain who can co-ordinate surveillance and act as a knowledgeable first point of contact to sift reports of suspected findings.
"A priority now is to investigate whether these new trainees can form part of this wider network and act as the nation's early warning system for new threats," Dr Slawson concluded.
Further information about pest and disease threats to Britain's trees is available from www.forestry.gov.uk/pestsanddiseases