Firstly I would like to thank all volunteers and trainers who attended the training days and helped make them successful and enjoyable for everyone present.  We held 12 training events, with venues in all volunteer regions in the UK including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Approximately 150 volunteers attended these events and, according to preliminary feedback, the majority were satisfied or very satisfied with their training experience.

Four heads are better than one

There were at least four Observtree trainers present at each training event from organisations such as:

  • Forest Research (FR)
  • Forestry Commission England (FCE) and Scotland (FCS)
  • Natural Resources Wales (NRW)
  • The Woodland Trust (WT)
  • The National Trust (NT)
  • The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)
  • FERA Science
  • The Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland (DARD)

This cross organisation working has been very positive as volunteers have benefitted from the range of different experiences and expertise that trainers were able to provide on training days.

Getting stuck in

This year, training day content was more hands-on and interactive than in previous years due to the majority of pest and disease training now being delivered on-line rather than face to face. This meant that there was more time available during training for activities that were more practical such as conifer ID training, observational skills and surveying skills and techniques.

A number of volunteers said that they preferred this new format of pest and disease training:

“I think the new format of introducing pest and disease topics at the session, with follow up webinars and video presentations, is a sensible way to use our time and that of the specialists from the agencies. An awful lot is gained from the discussion elements and practical experience of problems in the field.” 

It’s all in the mix

We covered a range of activities during each event with a flexible agenda that could be moved around to accommodate weather.

Volunteers enjoyed conifer ID training, with tree identification books coming out in droves.  A number of volunteers mentioned that it was great to have so many conifer samples to study and compare in the same room.

The outside surveying activity – incorporating mapping and GPS – was very popular with volunteers especially when they were able to see real life examples of pests and diseases such as ash dieback, Phytophthora lateralis and horse chestnut bleeding canker at the same time.

A further activity, designed to strengthen observation skills, was also included.  This promoted interaction and discussion on the causes, signs and symptoms of ill health in trees amongst volunteers.

Location, location, location

We were a bit worried about February weather, however, it was fairly kind to us and every one of the 12 events was able to go ahead. As in previous years, training venues were predominantly National Trust properties and it was a real pleasure to be in such fantastic surroundings.  Of course National Trust properties meant National Trust cake which was an enjoyable additional bonus for us!

It was great to meet new volunteers and catch up with existing ones, many of whom have been involved in this project for three years now.  It was very satisfying to see how they have grown in confidence, skills and tree health knowledge and so have been able to make a real difference to tree health early warning in the UK.

It doesn’t end there though

Even though face to face training events have finished for this year, volunteers will still be able to receive training through Observatree on-line training resources such as new presentation films and webinars. We have just published our webinar on Pine Processionary Moth and have an exciting series of topics coming up throughout the rest of the year. Thanks again to everyone who was involved in the training days. It was an enjoyable few weeks and I look forward to seeing many volunteers again at our Mentoring days in October!