Category Archives: Legacy

Optimised Techniques for Tree Climbing Activities

Fund4Trees is excited to announce the funding of a new research project by Alexander Laver ISA, BCMA of Tree Logic and Dr. James Shippen of Coventry University.

The project intends to map the body’s movements while tree climbing, utilising and comparing different techniques to analyse the pressure on both joints and muscles. The research should lead to a better understanding of how we use our bodies in the tree and how potential injuries are sustained, including the mechanisms for longer term injuries.

The results will be presented to the UK arboricultural industry and worldwide. The technology is truly unique in its application to the tree care industry and has been developed along with specific software provided by Coventry University (see video above), who have applied their techniques to car and equipment manufacturing as well as sports professionals and performers. This should be a turning point in our understanding of how we use and abuse our bodies during tree climbing activities.

Jack Kenyon, Co-opted Technical Advisor for Fund4Trees, said:

“The proposed research could substantially increase understanding of potential causes of physical stress related injury. This will improve training techniques for climbers and reduce the occurrence of chronic industrial injury.”

Fund4Trees trustee, Martin Gammie, said:

“This is exactly the type of practitioner-based research we need to produce in order to benefit arborists in our industry. It also makes a good case to support Fund4Trees via Donate1Job to further our research efforts.”

Emma Gilmartin and Professor Lynne Boddy are studying beech heart rot

Beech heart rot research update

Emma Gilmartin and Professor Lynne Boddy provide an Autumn update on their research into beech heart rot, supported by Fund4Trees.

Emma Gilmartin and Professor Lynne Boddy are studying beech heart rot
Emma Gilmartin and Professor Lynne Boddy from Cardiff University are studying beech heart rot thanks to support from Fund4Trees

We are now well into mushroom season. These, and other fungal fruiting structures, are often described as like apples on a tree. This analogy is due to the fact that mushrooms bear the reproductive propagules that are subsequently dispersed through the local environment and sometimes farther afield. But unlike apples, mushrooms do not contain seed. Fungi produce spores that are usually less than 0.01 millimetres in size; even the smallest known plant seeds are considerably larger. For some fungi, production of a mushroom or fruit body is essential for dispersal to a new resource. For certain species, fruit body production is a relatively rare occurrence, and so these structures are crucial for the persistence of a species.

At Cardiff University, we study the ecology of wood decaying fungi. One of the questions we are interested in is how and when do different fungi arrive at a woody resource. These resources can be of all sizes and qualities, though we usually think of fine twigs, dead branches or mossy logs lying on the ground. Decay, however, actually begins in the standing tree, in dead or dysfunctional wood, often in the central tissues or heartwood. We have previously shown that DNA of twelve species of fungi can be found in functional, living wood sampled from branches of a range of tree species. Of the small suite of fungi looked for, many were found in most trees tested. Wood can contain potentially many fungi, existing as spores, lying in wait for an opportunity to develop and start the decay process.

This month, we are starting to extract DNA from sawdust removed from the sapwood and heartwood of living beech trees. We now have the capability to sequence, quite comprehensively, the whole suite of fungal DNA in a sample. Rather than looking for target species, we can cast a wide net and look at everything present. This is not merely a fishing trip; as the human microbiome project has shifted perceptions of our bodies as isolated units, so must we start to view trees as a plant plus microorganisms. A potentially vast array of microorganisms likely play roles in metabolism, defence, as well as in the origins of decay.

Preliminary studies have not been without issues, and method development has been a major component of our work so far. Extracting relatively low amounts of fungal DNA from living tree tissues is not easy, as the large amount of host (tree) DNA tends to mask these latent fungi from us. However, with collaborators at the US Forest Service who are following similar lines of enquiry, we hope to get around this. Nonetheless, enquiries so far have suggested a strong site effect on communities, meaning that latent fungi are not the same wherever you look. This questions the common assumption that fungal spores are simply everywhere. Like those of plants and animals, fungal communities in a given place can also be species-poor if the surrounding landscape is likewise impoverished.


Emma Gilmartin and Professor Lynne Boddy.
Cardiff University. School of Biosciences, Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, Wales. CF10 3AX

Andrew Hirons, supported by Fund4Trees

Improving urban forest establishment

Dr Andrew Hirons from Myerscough College provides an update on research supported by a research grant from Fund4Trees.

Improving urban forest establishment, resilience and performance using trait-based tree selection

By Dr Andrew Hirons

Trees greatly enrich our urban environment through their provision of a wide range of ecosystem services. However, the contribution trees make is proportional to the health of the individual tree and urban forest as a whole. Impoverished growth environments, high mortality rates and poor species diversity act to diminish the ecosystem services provided by trees and make the urban forest vulnerable to future climate scenarios.

Professionals tasked with securing the future of our urban forests will be greatly aided by robust selection guidance on tree species and cultivars. Plant traits relating to the tolerance of water deficits will be particularly valuable since water deficits frequently impose limits on tree development in urban environments and lead to early tree mortality. For example, the leaf water potential at turgor loss (ΨP0) provides a robust measure of a plant’s ability to survive low water availability since a more negative ΨP0 allows the leaf to maintain physiological function for longer in drying soils. Using a novel approach, this project aims to develop quantifiable trait-based guidance for a wide range of species that can be used by arboriculturists, urban foresters, landscape architects and tree nurseries to help establish a resilient urban forest for the future.

Andrew Hirons, supported by Fund4Trees
Andrew Hirons, supported by Fund4Trees

The Fund4Trees research grant has kindly supported this collaborative research project between Andrew Hirons (Myerscough College) and Henrik Sjöman (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences: SLU). Please look out for the results that will be shared at future arboricultural conferences and in academic literature.

Feel free to contact Dr Andrew Hirons if you would like any further information on this project. See October 2016 update below.

Dr Andrew Hirons
Myerscough College
Senior Lecturer in Arboriculture and Urban Forestry

Update (October 2016)

This year, the project has made a number of advances. During the spring and summer, we have been able to collect new data from plant material at Kew gardens and Hillier Nursery. The focus has been on species from the genus Tilia, Fraxinus, Carpinus and Ostrya but have included a range of other species particularly from Hillier. In total, there will be drought tolerance data on 46 species.

These data have contributed to the existing data-set that was collected in the previous year. I have presented some of the work at the ISA annual conference in Texas (USA). This was well received and generated a good level of interest.

During this autumn, wood density data will be collected from the species to allow co-variation in trait data to be evaluated.

The project has also been boosted by some NERC funding that will allow these data to be integrated into some species selection guidance that will be published by TDAG at the end of 2017. This will significantly increase the impact of this work and ensure it reaches professionals across the green infrastructure sector.

Benefits of urban trees: what we do and don’t know

Thanks to a grant from Fund4Trees, researchers have expanded knowledge about the physical benefits of urban trees. As the benefits are very wide ranging, the research focussed particularly on cooling, stormwater attenuation and carbon sequestration.

Some considerable research has been and continues to be carried out on the physical benefits of urban trees in the UK, the rest of Europe and beyond. However, initial surveys of the literature suggest that, while some areas have already been well covered, the work has been carried out by many isolated groups of researchers and consequently there has been no overall methodological framework, or even consistent physical basis for their investigations. In addition, some of the benefits have only been modelled, not investigated by experiment, while in many other cases only generic benefits of “typical” trees have been quantified with little investigation of the influence of tree species or cultivation techniques. The result is that, while there is good deal of literature, it is often quite inaccessible to practitioners and the general public.

Professor Rob MacKenzie, Director of the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research and Chair of the Fund 4 Trees Research Advisory Committee, said:

“We hear a lot about the general benefits of trees in towns, but practitioners need to know what can be claimed for a specific tree in a specific spot. This review of the state-of-knowledge goes a long way to providing what practitioners need in order to make sound decisions that balance environmental, social, and financial benefits.”

Conducted Dr. Mohammad Rahman from the Technical University of Munich and Prof. Roland Ennos from University of Hull, thanks to a £5,000 Fund4Trees research grant, this project aimed to collect and review the research that has been carried out on the physical benefits of urban trees, identify what is and what is not known about them, and how best to improve our knowledge. The list of physical benefits delivered by trees in the urban environment being quite long, the research scope was narrowed to the following three areas of physical benefits which are often used as a basis for decision-making on urban greening policies and pursued through landscape design in individual projects:

Stormwater attenuation – This article published in the The Conversation on 10 December 2015 provides an overview of findings. Download

Temperature cooling – This article published in The Conversation on 22 December 2015 provides an overview of findings. Download

Carbon sequestration – Findings are detailed in the paper available for download below. Download

Launch of the Heart-Rot project at Windsor great Park. Fund4Trees trustees (yellow t-shirts) Mick Boddy and Martin Gammie, with Ted Green, Professor Lynne Boddy and Emma Gilmartin.

Grant awarded to Heart-Rot project at Cardiff University

Researcher Emma Gilmartin writes about a project supported by a grant from Fund4Trees

The lives of fungi and trees are intimately involved, but there’s more to it than mycorrhizae or mildew.

Professor Lynne Boddy (project supervisor next to Martin & the infamous Ted Green next to Mick
Launch of the Heart-Rot project at Windsor Great Park. Fund4Trees trustees (yellow t-shirts) Mick Boddy and Martin Gammie, with Ted Green, Professor Lynne Boddy and Emma Gilmartin.

Fungal decay in the interior of tree trunks and large branches, termed heart-rot, is a natural part of tree ageing. Heart-rot and associated hollowing is ecologically essential for a range of species, including birds, several rare invertebrates and other fungi. We peer into the oldest trees in the country and see that large volumes of heartwood have decayed away leaving an outer ring of functional sapwood. These trees are hollow but not empty; indeed, they are full of life.

I’m grateful to Fund4Trees for their support of my current PhD research. Based at Cardiff University, I am beginning to explore the ecology of heart rot and associated organisms, with project partners at Natural England, The Crown Estate and City of London. Relatively little is known about heart rot, probably because forestry research and practice is focused on young trees. Though there are some ideas, we don’t know how fungi enter and establish in standing trees, how fungal communities change through time, and how this affects patterns and speed of decay.

With a focus on beech (Fagus sylvatica) at Windsor Great Park and Epping Forest, we have begun to map fungal communities in trees at a range of decay stages. This is an important first step and survey element which will yield clues to initial questions and direct subsequent work. So far we have done this the traditional way, by identifying mycelium grown from wood chip samples taken once a tree has fallen. A less-destructive complement, however, is next generation sequencing. This is a method of producing entire community profiles based on DNA extracted from a just small amount of sawdust. Sequencing DNA from wood is an immensely exciting prospect for discovering hidden diversity that we might never encounter as mushrooms and brackets, or as fungal cultures. The technology is expensive, though improving and the grant provided by Fund4Trees will go some way towards furthering this key research.

Ultimately, we would like to use a better understanding of heart rot to increase the proportion of various heart rot niches. In areas with a generation gap between ancient or hollow trees and young trees without decay, dependent organisms have no new habitats to move into. One way of addressing this problem might be to inoculate trees with suitable heart-rot fungi, though this is some way off. The results of the sequencing study will be published in 2016, which we hope will be of interest not only to those who study fungi, but to anyone interested in trees, conservation and arboriculture.

Researcher Emma Gilmartin
Researcher Emma Gilmartin

Emma Gilmartin
Cardiff University
School of Biosciences
Sir Martin Evans Building,
Museum Avenue, Cardiff, Wales.
CF10 3AX