A state-of-the art laboratory that will conduct research into tree pests and diseases has been officially opened today (Friday, May 13) by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Forestry Commission (FC).

The £5.8 million Forest Research Holt Laboratory is located in the Alice Holt Forest in Surrey and its opening coincides with National Plant Health Week (May 9-15).

The centre will bring together leading scientists to undertake research on pests and pathogens which could be detrimental or seriously damaging to UK forests. What they find will help, going forward, to inform UK-wide efforts to combat ongoing pest and disease outbreaks.

These might include Oak processionary moth, Ips typographus and Phytophthora pluvialis, as well as emerging potential threats from abroad as a result of the warming climate, such as Emerald ash borer and Citrus longhorn beetle.

Forest Research chief executive, James Pendlebury said:

“Pests and diseases pose an existential threat to our treescapes.

“The research conducted at the Holt Laboratory as part of the Centre for Forest Protection will be pivotal in our long-term ability to combat these threats and safeguard our treescapes for future generations.

“This state-of-the-art facility builds on a long-term programme to protect our trees and forests from existing threats and ensures that we are at the forefront of defence against future risks.”

The Centre for Forest Protection, a new collaborative, virtual research network led jointly by Forest Research and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew also launches today, with a mission to protect forests, woodlands and trees from environmental and socioeconomic threats now and in the future. 

Many of the forward-thinking research projects undertaken as part of the Centre for Forest Protection will be conducted at the Holt Laboratory.

The entrance to Holt Laboratory

“Kew and Forest Research have been collaborating together on tree health issues for some time now, so it’s great to be coming together into a formal partnership for the Centre for Forest Protection,” said Prof. Richard Buggs, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

“Together, we can devise new ways to protect our trees and enhance their resilience. Ash dieback, acute oak decline, Dutch elm disease, here we come.”