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International Plant Sentinel Network (IPSN): as an early-warning system; for future pest threats - PH0479

With the increasing globalisation of trade and impacts of climate change the threat posed by plant pests and diseases is ever-growing. Plant health legislation for those countries within the European Union, as well as others around the world, is heavily reliant upon lists of organisms that are known to be damaging. Pest Risk Analysis (PRAs), are used to technically justify any regulation for an organism of concern, e.g. they are used to determine which organisms are listed as quarantine pests etc. PRAs evaluate both scientific and economic evidence to determine the threat an organism poses and what level, if any, of regulation is required in order to mitigate any impacts it could potentially cause. However, a vital issue for risk analysts and National Plant Protection Organisations (NPPOs) is the ‘unknown’ and the lack of knowledge regarding those new and emerging threats can impede the development of PRAs.

The network aims to support ‘sentinel research’ which, in the case of the IPSN, involves monitoring plants (mainly trees and woody shrubs) that are grown outside their natural regions (sentinel plants), for their reaction to the pests and diseases that exist in their new environment. Previous research has demonstrated the potential power of using such sentinel plants for identifying potential new threats. As well as helping to identify potential future threats, research can also provide new information about pests and diseases that scientists are currently lacking. Increased information can also aid the development of robust management programmes to help to slow or stop the establishment and spread of a pest in a new region, or even prevent their introduction in the first place.

Botanic gardens and arboreta offer unique opportunities to carry out such research, due to their exotic plant collections, trained and knowledgeable staff and their geographic spread around the world. Despite the obvious benefits to plant health, such plant collections are currently an under-utilised tool. terms of plant health and/or in hard to reach areas.
The IPSN’s main aim is to establish a network of botanic gardens, arboreta (BG&A), plant protection scientists and NPPOs that work collaboratively to provide key information on new and emerging threats to plant health.

The next phase of the IPSN will work towards 4 key areas to help meet its objectives:

1. Research coordination and evidence gathering to address knowledge gaps to support risk analysis activities. This will include identifying research priorities from NPPOs and RPPOs; providing coordination for access to trusted data owned by botanical institutes/BGCI, research partners, evaluation and data sharing; and energising participation and identifying research funding. Key evidence objectives for this aim will be at least 6 surveys for sentinel research projects focused on priority organisms as identified through UK Risk register/EPPO/NPPO priorities and the recruitment of additional botanical institutes and research partners with as wide a geographical spread as possible. The aim is to gain at least 10 new members of the IPSN each year, with members coming from 40 countries by 2020. The focus for recruiting new members will be on ensuring that as many different climate zones as possible are represented. This activity will be supported by BGCI's wider networking activities, which will facilitate making contacts in priority / hard to reach regions.

2. Raising awareness of plant health issues amongst botanic gardens and arboreta (first detection). This will include coordinating multi-country surveys for priority organisms by using BGCI databases to identify relevant botanic gardens and arboreta (in specific countries/regions with particular host species). Key evidence objectives for this aim will be the production of at least 6 posters, aimed at raising awareness amongst botanic garden staff for new and emerging organisms/susceptible host species and for at least 4 of the surveys included in point 1 to have a truly international element.

3. Developing capability and capacity in botanic gardens and arboreta to support surveillance. This will include providing training to staff working in botanical institutes in both EPPO and hard to reach/ priority countries and developing materials to aid surveys and raise capacity in gardens. Training courses (typically 1-2 days) will include a mix of desk-based and field training and will be led by key experts, including from Fera and RBG Kew. Specific training courses will be supported by a range of printed and electronic training resources. Key evidence objectives for this aim will be at least 1 UK/1 European and 1 International workshop (R&D outputs) per year, which will include some in-field training, and providing surveying material (diagnstic sheets, survey forms, how-to guides and health and safety guidance) for at least 6 organisms (R&D outputs).

4. Develop a self-sustaining system that is championed by stakeholders and supported by BGCI. Throughout the initial IPSN phase, it has become obvious that a degree of coordination and support will always be required to manage the activities of the network. However, eventually this will be at a much reduced level (with minimal financial support), as the network will mainly be driven by the beneficiary parties from botanic gardens and arboreta, NPPOs, RPPOs and others. The IPSN will continue to work to ensure that this can be achieved. BGCI is fully committed to the long-term sustainability of the IPSN and envisages continued support, at least for a part-time coordinator as part of its 5-year strategy to 2020. BGCI is already investigating alternative funding sources, including through botanic garden membership fees. Work on tree health is complementary to BGCI’s strong focus on tree conservation to which a number of donors are already committed. We therefore envisage that sustainability of the network, and continued coordination, can be achieved through a combination of support from end users (NPPOs and botanic gardens) and support from other BGCI funding sources.
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2016

To: 2020

Cost: £50,000
Contractor / Funded Organisations
BGCI (Botanic Garden Conservation International)
Plant health              
Plant Pests and Diseases              
Fields of Study
Plant Health