New funding announcement for Small Business Research Initiative: Plant health innovations for biosecurity
In collaboration between Defra and UKRI (UK Research and Innovation), a share of up to £800,000 is available to develop innovative solutions to improve UK biosecurity against regulated plant pests and diseases.
Closing date for applications is 20 December 2023.
Full details of eligibility, requirements and funding availably can be found at UKRI Funding Finder, and further applicant support is available bycontacting firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0300 321 4357. Phone lines are open from 9am to 12pm and 2pm to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).
You can also attend an online briefing event 12:30-13:30 23 November 2023 to find out more.
What are regulated plant pests and diseases?
Plant Health regulations seek to prevent damaging plant pests and diseases from entering the United Kingdom and prevent their spread if they are found to be present. Regulated plant pests and diseases are laid out in legislation for Great Britain and for Northern Ireland. Regulated pest and diseases can be categorised as:
Regulated Quarantine Pests - A pest or disease of potential economic importance to the area endangered and not yet present there, or present but not widely distributed and being officially controlled.
Regulated Non-Quarantine Pests- When a pest or disease is already present in an area and carried by plants for planting, which can include living plants, seeds andgermplasm, intended to be planted, replanted or remain planted, they can be regulated as a regulated non-quarantine pest to prevent unacceptable yield or quality losses on the intended use of those plants.
Further supporting information on many regulated pests and diseases is available across the Plant Health Portal and the Plant Health Risk Register, and an introduction to how this legislation is applied to the import and export of plant and plant products is available within guidance here.
What challenge areas are in scope?
The Plant Biosecurity Strategy for Great Britain and the supporting Defra Plant Health Research and Development Plan highlight the need to find and develop new technologies for detection and diagnosis of pests and pathogens.
Plants and trees provide an estimated £15.7 billion value to society annually in the UK. This figure is offset by the impact of plant pests and disease, threats of which are increasing due to growing globalisation. Annually we import around £17billion of plants and plant material, trade in which is essential for many reasons. To reduce the plant health risks associated with trade, in England and Wales approximately 125,000 inspections on controlled consignments are carried out each year. This competition seeks to enhance technical capability to deliver effective and efficient inspections, wider surveillance and manage material found to be infected or infested.
Projects must focus on one or more of the following challenges and be applicable to regulated plant pests and diseases.
Projects which address the challenges by exploring a biological question or applying bioscience or biotechnology to advance the needs of solution users are encouraged
1. Developing innovative technologies and practices to enhance border inspections of traded plants for planting and plant commodities, including wood and wood products, improving sampling accuracy, detection rates of regulated pests, time and resource efficiency of inspectors.
Preventing the arrival of pests and pathogens through imports is a priority due to the socio-economic and environmental costs caused if damaging pathogens and pests are able to establish.
Border inspections apply a risk-based but time-consuming approach by which large volumes of planting stock or wood products (e.g. timber, firewood, pallets etc.) must be manually inspected. Targeted and non-targeted tools that allow inspectors to detect and diagnose pests and pathogens more efficiently and accurately in large consignments, have the potential to improve border biosecurity.
Solutions could potentially utilise sensing technologies (spectral, acoustic and olfactory) that would allow detection to occur quickly and passively with less unpacking and disturbance of products.
Some pests and pathogens can be latent when they arrive at the border and so visually detectable symptoms may not be present until after inspection has occurred. Innovation in the detection and diagnosis of latent pests and pathogens, would provide significant advantages to our biosecurity.
2. Enhancing in-land inspections of plants in nurseries, recently planted sites or the wider environment, through the application of innovative technologies and practices to enable pest and pathogen detection in the field, reducing the risk of outbreaks.
Our technological capabilities to diagnose pests and pathogens in lab environments have developed dramatically over the past few decades; however, most plant health inspections on nurseries, agricultural land, in parks/gardens, woodlands and forests still rely on ground surveys and visual techniques. The effective deployment of innovative technologies, or improved survey methodologies, that allow us to ‘enhance the senses’ of both inspectors and growers is an opportunity to increase the accuracy and efficiency of inspections.
Furthermore, by empowering more growers and traders to perform their own in-field testing and improving the accessibility of self-testing diagnostic technology and practices, the trade of infected commodities could be reduced in a risk-based, and more time and resource-efficient way.
Innovative tools and practices that can be used quickly, easily, and reliably by growers and traders could help them to make informed management decisions, reduce the amount of time and resources required for Inspectorate visits, and mitigate against potentially avoidable negative impacts from the presence of plant pest and diseases. We encourage tools that are practical, easy to use and provide immediate results, which may be followed by a lab-based diagnosis.
3. Utilising passive and scanning surveillance approaches to provide timely and cost-effective methods for detecting pests and diseases in different landscape settings.
Passive or scanning surveillance, which involves a technology or practice that is set up to collect data over time with minimal human intervention, could reduce the cost and time required for inspectorate visits and utilise signals of pest and pathogen presence that the human eye or random sampling is unlikely to detect.
Current passive surveillance options, such as sticky traps and pheromone trapping, are often non-descript or may not be best suited to the pests and diseases currently of greatest concern in Britain. The development of accurate, effective, and cost-efficient passive surveillance tools that can target high-risk pests could improve detection and offer more options to landowners, growers, and the Inspectorate.
Wider environment inspections (e.g. in woodlands or crop fields) can present unique geographic challenges such as covering large areas and navigating uneven, obstructed, and dense terrain. Remote sensing approaches and accompanying tools, such as Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, could improve the inspection, access, and management of terrain that would otherwise be difficult to navigate.
4. Managing the supply of potentially infected or infested plants and plant commodities pre and post border, presenting alternative treatments to destruction following detection of a quarantine organism, reducing financial losses whilst maintaining biosecurity.
Immediate destruction is the usual procedure for securely disposing of a plant or plant commodity that is contaminated with a pest or pathogen. Whist this management strategy is the fastest way of ensuring biosecurity, it comes at an economic cost for traders, and a potentially greater environmental footprint (e.g. use of pesticides or felling of infected trees) to alternatives.
The reduction in the availability of broad-spectrum pesticides means that there is a need for new sustainable, effective, and readily available methods to replace these chemicals. By supporting a broad range of treatment options that are rapidly effective and could be applied pre or post border, we could improve the prevention of pest incursions and reduce the need for commodity destruction.
Whilst the destruction of commodities identified to carry high risk pests and diseases is likely to continue, solutions could find a balance that promotes biosecurity and reduces economic losses for traders. Solutions may lie in identifying and applying efficient ways of treating medium to low-risk pests and pathogens; therefore, reducing the proportion of infected commodities that require destruction.
For wood and bark products that are detected with a pest or pathogen, effective phytosanitary treatments that do not damage the commodity are more readily available than that of other plant derived products. However, it may be possible that new phytosanitary treatments could satisfy the need to treat pest and pathogen risks associated with trade in wood and bark products, whilst further supporting a range of additional common objectives.