Forestry Commission - Tree Alert


Forestry Commission Tree Alert – leveraging the power of Open Source GI tools and Crowd-sourcing techniques to track the spread of tree diseases


Ash dieback is a tree disease that has hit the headlines in recent years, threatening to almost completely destroy Britain’s estimated 130 million ash trees, but it’s not the only threat to native tree species. An increasing number of invasive pests and diseases threaten British trees. In response, the Forestry Commission needed to have efficient processes to address the threats in a proactive and consistent way.

In July 2013, EU LIFE+ approved funding for the 4 year Observatree project lead by the Forestry Commission. As part of this project the opportunity was seized to take advantage of an engaged public as ‘citizen scientists’ as well as the 25,000 or so people who work in the arboreal industry. What was needed was an easy to use application that would allow them to make scientifically useful reports about their observations.


With limited time and budget available to the project team, an innovative and efficient approach was required. Any solution needed to be ready for deployment prior to the start of the next growing season, when most of the reports are made.

To achieve this goal the Forestry Commission engaged SCISYS to help them design and deliver Tree Alert. Tree Alert is a browser based application that guides users through a series of intelligent questions, which reflect previous answers, to help to identify the issue, including confirmation of the species as well as the key symptoms.

Using an Open Architecture combining a number of Open Source and existing SCISYS technologies, the project team were able to take advantage of functionality already available.  The basis of the site uses the content management system Joomla! to provide an application framework. This has been integrated with the SCISYS Digiright component to capture the location information about the observation (using the Ordnance Survey OnDemand WMS feed for the base mapping).


Tree Alert has significantly increased the reach of the Forestry Commission in collecting observation about potential tree diseases and pests. Commenting on the solution Roger Coppock, Head of Corporate and Forestry Support, Forestry Commission said “The information gathered on the Tree Alert site doesn’t just allow us to investigate individual cases reported by the general public, as we can now set priorities based on risk and track the incidence of new and invasive pests and diseases. This information will prove invaluable in our understanding of how tree pests and diseases spread in Britain, and help us to protect our woodlands for generations to come.”

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