FORESTRY and Land Scotland (FLS) is carrying out surveys across infected larch sites and other areas of larch not known to be infected, in a bid to control the spread of Phytophthora ramorum.

The surveying effort – in tandem with similar efforts from other private sector land managers – helps to compensate for the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the formal helicopter survey. To comply with social distancing, instead of flying with the usual three spotters, the Scottish Forestry helicopter survey is only crewed by one spotter.

Alan Gale, FLS adaptation and resilience programme manager, said: “With COVID-19 restrictions impacting on this important annual survey, we – are putting extra effort into this task in a bid to stay on top of the ongoing effort to manage this disease.

“By using a combination of drones and boots on the ground we’re checking areas around known infection sites on the land that we manage, which will free up the helicopter team to focus on other larch areas.

“It is imperative that we identify as quickly as possible any new outbreaks as this gives us the best chance of felling diseased trees before it manages to move on to new sites.

“With fewer eyes in the air this year, the ground surveys are a very important component in ensuring that the nation-wide checks are undertaken.”

The surveys will carry on until the end of August but early indications are that there has been no great increase in the rate of spread from last year, Alan said.

Across Scotland, FLS teams have already checked larch in 69 of its blocks (in 124,000 ha) and a further 53 blocks (in 93,000 ha) are planned for checking through the rest of the month.

He added: “It’s an ongoing team effort involving both forestry agencies and a number of private sector land managers and organisations. It’s great to see the sector coming together to work for the common good.”

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