Could you help scientists report an invasive tree disease on your golf course?

Tony Hanson
By Tony Hanson May 6, 2015 14:31

The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network, a UK-wide citizen science initiative, is tracking the invasive species and some tree pest diseases affecting golf courses.

Biodiversity is simply a contraction of the biological diversity that refers to the range of living organisms supported and in simple terms the variety of species gives an indicator of ecological health. Or does it?

tree bradley johnson

Image by Bradley Johnson

Over the past few years the UK has seen the spread of a number of invasive species and diseases that are bringing about significant change to the existing flora and fauna. The causes are complex although they are likely to include climate change, and less than effective bio security, allowing their import into the UK. The causes should be reviewed to identify causes where greater diligence on may prevent continued access. That being said, we cannot turn the clock back, so the emphasis must now be on obtaining data and interpreting the information to gain an understanding of their effects and how quickly they are spreading.

We in the golf industry are uniquely placed benefiting from access to the beauty of golf courses that offers a tamed natural environment. More importantly, golf also provides significant areas of naturalised semi managed and unmanaged areas. The key to why the golf industry can be so useful in helping to obtain data is the geographical spread of UK golf courses, almost literally from Lands End to John O’ Groats. The additional benefit to the studies are the varied habitats provided within the golf industry including coastal, heathland, parkland, water, woodland (deciduous and coniferous), ancient hedges, highland, lowland – well you get the idea.

Urban courses on sites that have been surrounded by developments also offer a natural resource for wildlife, people and researchers.

Hanson Associates are working with OPAL (Open Air Laboratory), a lottery funded project led by Imperial College London, backed by the Department for the Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Environment Agency and many academic organisations.

The purpose is to encourage ‘citizen science’ by getting the public involved in monitoring a range of specific projects to obtain sighting of invasive species and disease as they colonise the UK.

The information provided is pooled and access provided to the scientific community to allow mapping and research to assess the effects on existing ecosystems. The potential data volumes and geographic spread of the sightings will go far beyond anything achievable by a handful of scientists’ research, given current budgets. More importantly, the project is encouraging engagement and an understanding of the dynamic nature of our environment, as well as the repercussions of changes initiated by us and climate change.

How can we contribute? It is very easy, the OPAL website provides free downloadable resources to allow people of all abilities to conduct surveys, results can be entered on online or you can post completed surveys to OPAL. A couple of apps are available from the OPAL website for both Android and Apple operating sytems and provide information on identification and reporting any sightings you may have.

Current projects include:

– Tree health

◦ Oak – 22.9 percent of broad leaved UK stock (data from the national inventory of woodland and trees)

▪ Oak mildew – First identified in the UK in 1908

▪ Knopper gall – Arrived in the UK in the 1950s, the wasp galls affect the acorns and prevent germination

▪ Tortrix roller moth – This is a native species but infested trees can lose all their leaves, preventing photosynthesis

▪ Oak decline – resulting from combinations of pest diseases and other outside agents such as drought.

◦ Ash – 13.3 percent of broad leave UK stock

▪ Ash bud moth – A native species that damages the base of the bud and may cause the leaf failure

▪ Ash key gall – Created by a native mite the galls make the ash keys heavier and less able to be distributed by the wind

▪ Nectria canker – A native fungus that colonises existing wounds and scars potentially causing die back

▪ Ash decline – Caused by a number of factors affecting the roots and causing a gradual decline

◦ Horse chestnut – No percentage figures published

▪ Horse chestnut leaf blotch – First appearing in Britain in 1935, the cause is a fungus normally appearing in the summer from June

▪ Leaf miner – Is a micro moth first appearing in the UK in 2002 with tell tale brown marks caused by the caterpillar feeding inside the leaf

▪ Bleeding canker – Caused by a bacterium introduced in the early 2000s and attacks the bark of trees and can be fatal in extreme cases

▪ Horse chestnut scale – First appearing in the 1960s the egg sacks of the insect appear in June with the young emerging and feeding on the leaves.

54-55 hanson opal tree IMG_3230

OPAL is working with the Forestry Commission and has requested help to monitor the spread of six of the most unwanted including:

  • Asian longhorn beetle
  • Citrus longhorn beetle
  • Ash dieback (chalara fraxinea)
  • Emerald ash borer
  • Oak processionary moth
  • Pine processionary moth.

Details and aids to indentification are available by:

Phone app:


Sightings should be reported via the apps or phone to the Forestry Commission on 08459 335577 in England and Wales, 0131 314 6156 in Scotland or 0300 200 7847 in Northern Ireland.

Given the population of these tree species and the importance to the natural environment, obtaining as much data as possible on the various diseases and parasites is vital and further information is available at:

OPAL website:

OPAL is also running ‘Bugs count’ with a phone-based app to request the sighting of six insect species that have been in possible decline over the last few years.

asian long beetle richard klein

Asian long beetle. Image by Richard Klein

The species are:

  • Devils coach horse – nocturnal in habit the study is trying to assess whether this species is suffering along with many other species of larger beetles.
  • Green shield bugs – found in the south of England the study aims to see whether climate change is allowing the green shield bug to move north.
  • Leopard slugs – thought to be relatively widespread there is precious little data available to back this up.
  • Small tortoise shell butterfly – Once common it has gone in to a rapid population decline over the last few years.
  • Tree bumblebee – Arrived in the UK around 10 years ago, does not appear to be impacting on native species and is a prolific pollinator – but where has it reached.
  • Two spot ladybird – There has been a rapid decline in population thought to be due in part to competition from the non native harlequin ladybird.

How can you help?

Can you ask your greenkeepers to keep an eye of the trees for the spread of parasites and diseases when they are on the course. In my experience greenkeepers are fantastically knowledgable about species and habitats and often become the driver for natural environment enhancement on course.

You may have members that are very happy to get involved both on course and elsewhere so a small notice somewhere in the clubhouse may create additional interest.

How much time will it take?

We are trying to make the process as simple, quick and easy as possible with reporting enabled via phone apps and also online via the OPAL website.

This engagement process with the golf industry could allow discussions on other projects relating to the golf industry and potentially helping to quantify golf’s value to the environment.

If you would like further information please let me know.

Tony Hanson AIEMA is a Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) sustainability associate and runs environmental consultancy Hanson Associates. Tel: 0118 961 2169 or 07786 435 010, email or visit


Tony Hanson
By Tony Hanson May 6, 2015 14:31
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1 Comment

  1. pensioner pete May 7, 15:40

    The main pests damaging our trees are the feral youths from the adjoining housing estate.

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