The Oak Processionary Moth, or Thaumetopoea processionea, is a pest. Large populations can strip bare even the mightiest of oak trees as the moth’s caterpillars devour a tree’s leaves, while also posing skin and respiratory issues for human and animals.
The moths’ eggs reportedly arrived in the United Kingdom on young oak saplings imported in to West London from Continental Europe in 2006. Some say the moth’s range is also growing as climate change warms temperatures throughout Europe.
So what can you do when these pests come to town? In the United Kingdom, the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) conducts a Tree Health Survey, which engages interested citizens to alert scientists when pests like the Oak Processionary Moth are first sighted. OPAL’s citizen science effort extends the reach of the limited number of official forestry and plant health inspectors, giving them an early warning and the best opportunity to stop the pests.
The Tree Health Survey was developed in 2013 by OPAL and its partners working in conjunction with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Food Environment Research Agency and the Forestry Commission’s Forest Research branch. Thousands of people across the United Kingdom signed up to take part, surveying the health of trees in their neighborhoods and checking for evidence of potentially harmful pests and diseases.
Other pests on the survey’s “Most Unwanted” list include the Emerald Ash Borer and the Asian Longhorn Beetle.
OPAL’s other projects seek to engage the public on issues of environmental quality, biodiversity and climate change including a range of materials and tools to support environmental monitoring like the wildlife identification social network iSpot and the free open source recording software packages Indicia and iRecord. The group has been funded by grants of £17.4 million ($29 million) from the UK Big Lottery Fund and is led by Imperial College London.
Projects like the tree survey are getting noticed. In January, OPAL won the Civil Service Reform Award at the Defra Team Awards 2013. “We felt really honored just to be nominated for the award; to win was well beyond our expectations but it is a real credit to everyone that was involved in the OPAL Tree Health Survey,” OPAL Portfolio Manager Roger Fradera said of the award.