BRIGIT: enhancing surveillance and response preparedness for Xylella fastidiosa

RHS project team
Gerard Clover, Sarah Plummer
John Innes Centre (lead organisation), Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Fera Science Ltd, Forest Research, National Museum Wales, Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture, The University of Salford, University of Stirling, University of Sussex
Start date
01/12/2018 00:00:00
End date
31/03/2021 12:00:00
The problem
Xylella fastidiosa is described “as one of the most damaging plant pathogens worldwide” by the European Commission. Xylella can infect more than 500 plant species and it is spreading across southern Europe from its origins in the Americas. Xylella has not been detected in the UK; an outbreak would have extremely negative impacts environmentally, economically and socially.

Xylella is the causal agent of many diseases, including an outbreak of olive quick decline syndrome which has so far killed thousands of olive trees in the Puglia region of Italy. Often Xylella infected plants can show few symptoms, at least in the early stages of disease, or the symptoms can be confused with other stresses such as drought. This means infected plants can often go unnoticed, leading to increased rates of transmission. While some plants can survive infection others will succumb to the disease, losing leaves and fruit followed by plant death. Insect species such as the spittlebug Philaenus spumarius can transmit the bacterium from plant to plant by feeding on the sap of infected plants. These insect “vectors” are common throughout the UK.

Even though Xylella has only been detected in Europe since 2013 it is currently estimated to have caused damage totalling €1.2 billion. It is therefore vitally important to prevent the bacterium entering the UK, and to ensure we have the right information to respond should Xylella be introduced.
BRIGIT is a collaborative project between 10 participating organisations, focusing on improving detection methods for Xylella, increasing understanding of how the bacterium is transmitted by insects, and developing models to predict how it might spread if it were introduced into the UK. The project will use a citizen science approach to improve surveillance for the bacterium and to raise public awareness.

Within the BRIGIT consortium, the RHS is involved in enhancing and improving the information available to the public. We will work with citizen scientists to improve surveillance for Xylella and to gather information on the distribution of potential insect vectors.

As part of the project the RHS has created PDFs explaining how to identify the high risk plant hosts in the UK, alongside pictures of symptoms and a link to a reporting service for anyone who thinks they may have found an infected plant.

Training events will be held to provide industry and volunteers with information about the disease and what to look out for. Volunteers will be encouraged to pass on what they have learned about plant health, in particular the risk from Xylella.

Through these actions we aim to increase public understanding of plant health risks, for example the importance of sourcing plants from reputable nurseries and not bringing back plants from oversees which may be at risk from infection. Engaging as many people as possible, from the general public to plant health inspectors, will reduce the risk of Xylella arriving in the UK and increase our ability to limit the spread of disease in the case of an outbreak.
The BRIGIT project aims to:
  • Create integrated, informative websites about the insect vectors of Xylella fastidiosa and potential plant hosts
  • Improve diagnostic tests for Xylella so that the bacterium can be more reliably and rapidly identified
  • Improve our understanding of the insects which may transmit Xylella and provide open access information on their distribution and taxonomy
  • Develop local and national models to predict the potential spread of Xylella through the movement of insect vectors and the plant trade
Benefits to gardeners
In the event of Xylella being introduced, being able to predict the spread of the disease will help control strategies which in turn will limit the amount of damage caused to public and domestic gardens, horticulture and the wider environment.
Further information
BRIGIT project
Spittle/Xylem-feeding Insect survey
Advisory information

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