Forestry Journal:

This piece is an extract from our A View from the Forest (previously Forestry Features) newsletter, which is emailed out at 4PM every Wednesday with a round-up of the week's top stories. 

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THE line between reality and the virtual world draws ever nearer. Once Sci-fi-flick fantasy, spending time inside a world that's not really there – except, of course, it sort of is – is now as natural an experience as drinking water or being weighed down by Forestry Commission paperwork.

Whether it's gaming or Facebook's seemingly doomed 'metaverse', virtual reality (VR) is here to stay, the tech whizzes tell us, so you better get used to it. Putting to one side some of the concerns for the future of human interaction, it's easy to see why the technology gets so many people so excited.

Now you can add tree health to the growing list of endeavours looking beyond the real world for solutions. 

As part of celebrations to mark National Plant Health Week, Askham Bryan College and the Tree Health Centre at the Yorkshire Arboretum have launched a new virtual reality experience for tree-health training.

Forestry Journal: The VR system takes users into a virtual world The VR system takes users into a virtual world (Image: Supplied)

This Tree Health VR workshop takes you on a journey of discovery around a virtual arboretum, giving first-hand experience of the pesky great spruce bark beetle.

Promising to be like nothing else in the world, it uses cutting-edge technologies, puzzles and gamification to bring alive the significant economic damage caused to forests and woodlands by these beetles and demonstrates why good plant biosecurity is vital as we combat climate change.


Professor Nicola Spence, Defra chief plant health officer, said: “Pests and diseases cause significant damage to trees, causing tree death in many cases as well as having a considerable impact on biodiversity.

“Using new and innovative technology such as virtual reality experiences will help educate and build awareness of tree health threats to future generations.”

Forestry Journal: Interacting with resin bleeding symptom on spruce treeInteracting with resin bleeding symptom on spruce tree (Image: Supplied)

According to the people behind the system, VR is ideally suited for education about tree health issues as many harmful organisms are not known to occur in this country, some have restricted distribution in the UK, some are seasonal (e.g. broadleaf tree pests) and many produce very cryptic symptoms all of which digital technology can overcome and bring the problem alive.

Dr John Grimshaw, MBE, director of the Yorkshire Arboretum, said: “We’re proud of being part of the team that is producing it."

At a time when the UK's forestry industry is faced with a seemingly never-ending list of pests and diseases, this could prove a timely intervention. At the very least, it probably tells us the direction of travel.