The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced £4 million in funding for a new research and containment facility to tackle emerging threats to tree health.

The new facility will be at the UK’s Forest Research Alice Holt Research Station in Surrey, and will aim to better equip the country in managing risks posed by pests and pathogens.

Defra said the battle against tree-disease spreading beetles such as the Emerald ash borer and the larger eight-toothed spruce bark beetle will be strengthened by the funding.

The facility will expand the capacity of the existing Holt containment laboratory by almost double.

This will boost capability to study pests and pathogens in a contained and controlled environment – enhancing national response and facilitating safe international trade, Defra said.

Statistics released by Forest Research show there were 2350 tree pests and diseases reported via the TreeAlert service from April 2023-March 2024.

Biosecurity minister Lord Douglas-Miller said: “The UK is a world leader in tree health and biosecurity and today we are going further in boosting our armoury to combat tree pests and diseases and manage emerging threats.

“We are committed to protecting the country’s tree health and maintaining biosecurity to ensure our trees and woodlands are resilient to fight climate change. Building on the existing vital work of Alice Holt will be a key part to achieving this.”

Defra chief plant health officer, Prof Nicola Spence, said: “Pests and diseases are a threat to our nation’s trees and plants.

They cause significant damage, economic losses and in many cases tree death. Tackling them is a key part of commitments set out in our world-leading Plant Biosecurity Strategy to protect our nation’s plants and trees.

“Funding this new facility at Alice Holt will boost our capacity in the fight against new and emerging threats and help us maintain some of the strongest biosecurity measures in the world.”

Tree health outbreaks

Forestry Commission chair Sir William Worsley it is vital that research is expanded to counter new tree health outbreaks that are a threat to the nation’s trees.

“Trees and woodlands support our wellbeing, and are home to some of our most treasured species. The play an important role in tackling climate change.

“This new facility at Forest Research’s renowned Alice Holt Research Station will boost and expand our response to ensure trees are resilient for the future.”

Forest Research chief executive, Prof James Pendlebury, said: “The Alice Holt Research Station has played a key role in researching pests and pathogens to protect our forests, strengthening UK-wide efforts to combat pest and disease outbreaks.

“It is important that we increase our capacity to combat these threats so we can continue our world-leading research and, this investment will help Forest Research fight to safeguard our trees and woodlands for future generations.”