UWE Bristol announces partnership PhD with Woodland Heritage

Media Relations Team, 15 March 2024

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Representatives from UWE Bristol join Woodland Heritage and Forest Research with PhD student Alice Dibley
From left to right: Dr Elena Vanguelova – Senior Biogeochemist, Forest Research; Dr Sandra Denman – Principal Pathologist, Forest Research; John Orchard – CEO, Woodland Heritage; Dr Carrie Brady – Senior Lecturer, UWE Bristol; Dr Mark Steer – Associate Professor, UWE Bristol; and Alice Dibley – PhD student, UWE Bristol.

UWE Bristol has announced a Partnership PhD with Woodland Heritage and Forest Research to research the effects of management practices on Acute Oak Decline (AOD) and the rhizosphere microbiome of parkland oak trees.

Through its pioneering new woodland in Somerset, research funding and educational courses, Woodland Heritage is helping create a UK that’s more self-sufficient in timber grown in healthy, well-managed woodlands which benefit people and wildlife.

Acute Oak Decline (AOD) is a serious emerging disease that affects native oak trees in the UK, and there are increasing reports of this decline disease in Temperate and Mediterranean Europe as well as the Middle East. The disease mostly affects trees older than 50 years and is often most severe on trees in their prime (80 – 200 years) but can also occur on young as well as ancient trees.

Management practices related to decompaction and soil aeration, organic matter incorporation and nutrient balancing could be meaningfully applied in certain systems such as parkland oak. Forest Research has a range of long-term monitored oak sites, with good baseline data sets for a number of parkland sites, which is where field trials will take place to deliver significant, evidence-based management advice.

The intended outcome of this project will be to determine if parkland oak health can be improved by natural soil amelioration and to ascertain whether there is a shift in the rhizosphere microbiome as a result of soil treatment. The project will also aim to formally classify any novel bacterial species isolated to further improve understanding of the biology of AOD and oak root health, which will provide information that will be useful to foresters, landowners and stakeholders in their management decisions of parkland oak.

Woodland Heritage and UWE Bristol partnership PhD student Alice Dibley
PhD student Alice Dibley

The PhD is jointly funded by UWE Bristol and Woodland Heritage; the successful candidate is Alice Dibley, from Stroud. She said: “I am thrilled to have been selected to undertake this vital research into AOD and I can’t wait to get stuck in. I am also looking forward to working with Forest Research and Woodland Heritage as there is so much for me to learn from these experts.”

UWE Bristol has a long partnership with the Woodland Heritage, who have previously supported AOD research by post-graduate researchers, both research fellows and PhD students.

UWE Bristol senior lecturer Dr Carrie Brady said: “We are so pleased to be able to continue our relationship with Woodland Heritage through the funding of this new PhD project. Over the last decade, UWE Bristol and Forest Research, with the support of Woodland Heritage, have produced some impressive research that has contributed to our understanding of the bacterial microbiome in AOD-affected oak, and we thank them for their continued support of post-graduate research.”

John Orchard, chief executive of Woodland Heritage, added: “The charity’s supporters will be so glad to see the outcome of this vital research and I’m very grateful to our partners. We all rely on oak for so much, don’t we? Biodiversity, carbon capture, landscape and landmarks, soil health, picnics and of course buildings and furniture. It’s really a part of our national story. We must take action to ensure this precious tree is protected.”

Dr Sandra Denman, Principal Pathologist at Forest Research, commented “It is a real privilege to lead and train another young tree health scientist, who will focus on investigating the effects of natural soil amelioration treatments on the oak tree’s ability to help itself against the debilitating disease, Acute Oak Decline. It has taken 15 years of multi-disciplinary research to be able to know where to target practical, feasible and affordable management applications that have the best chance of delivering meaningful results. We thank Woodland Heritage sincerely for their steadfast trust and investment in us over all these years.”

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