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Phytophthora – Greek for Plant Destroyer!

15 Mar 2012 9:00 AM | Rick McKee (Administrator)
The Northern Ireland Mountain Biking Alliance (NIMBA) attended a stakeholder update meeting and workshop event at Greenmount College Campus on 14 March.  This was the fourth such event held since the first outbreaks of the plant disease Phytophthora (Fight Off Thora!) in Japanese larch woodlands in 2010. 

The session focused primarily on the strand of the disease called P. ramorum, best known under its USA name Sudden Oak Death, which has devastated large areas of California, and is now causing grief over here! 

Attendance was circa 40 people from different government, industry and user groups; NIMBA was given a rip-roaring welcome by many in the room, with all saying it was great to have mountain biking represented at such an event.  It was a great chance to get the background from a scientific perspective, as there has been a lot of misinformation flying around about it all in recent months.

The meeting was organised by DARD’s Quality Assurance Branch, with FERA’s David Slawson, the UK’s leading expert on this disease, delivering an excellent presentation before we got into the discussion workshops.  We discussed and developed ideas around the following:

  • Disease control – how to stop it coming into the country, and how to stop it spreading around
  • Communication – how to reach the various disparate audiences (like mountain-bikers, for example) with the right messages about it
  • Monitoring – how to ensure that the eyes and ears for tell-tale signs are maximised
Many Northern Ireland mountain bikers will have felt the effects of this disease already, with a number of our forests designated even MORE out of bounds than usual.  The clearing of Moneyscalp Forest, along with clearing operations in Glenarm, Glenariff, Tievenadarragh, Woodburn and Ballyboley Forests in recent months, has been met with some dismay and scepticism in biking circles.

Up until 2009, P. ramorum in the UK had been confined mostly to ornamental plants such as rhododendron, in trade and in historic gardens, and with only around 100 trees, mostly beech, affected. However in August of that year confirmation of the first infections in Japanese larch here changed the nature of the disease and the situations in which it occurred. In 2010, six public forests and three private sites were affected, resulting in the felling of over 300 hectares of trees.  This disease also affects bilberry, an important plant of heathland, as well as 'commercial' species like larch, so one can appreciate the alarm amongst the scientists.  The challenge here is communicating with us, the great unwashed, in what we need to do or not do in response!

Lots of other facts, figures, statistics and photographs were presented by David Slawson, too many for this post, but this was a worthwhile event to attend and we came away assured that there is definitely merit in mountain biking being represented at events like this.

Once the session was wrapped, it was good to have an opportunity to talk at some length with Forest Service senior executives Malcolm Beattie, Ian Irwin and John Joe O’Boyle, and to renew acquaintance with former Chief Executive and current DARD Deputy Secretary David Small, all of whom have been involved in discussions regarding the further development of mountain biking and other recreation in our forests.

See the notes at the bottom of this press release from August 2010 for more background info on P. Ramorum.

P. ramorum in Japanese larch
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