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    Drastic action required to protect the future of plant science

    Posted 12 June 2015

    Professor Simon Leather

    Professor Simon Leather, Professor of Entomology, believes that drastic action is required to protect the future of plant science, and in turn, food production.

    "During the last five years or so, a number of government and learned society reports have highlighted the vulnerability of the plant science community in the UK. 

    For example, in 2014, the UK Plant Sciences Federation published a report about the potential demise of plant sciences in the UK. In 2009, the BBSRC also produced a report outlining the vulnerability of a number of bioscience research skills, in which among others, they highlighted plant sciences and entomology.

    In 2012 the British Society for Plant Pathology produced a similarly gloomy report. The bottom line of these three reports is, that UK plant sciences are in danger of extinction unless something is done in the very near future.

    I recently chaired the UKPSF Training and Skills Working Group.  We came up with a number of recommendations some of which are shown below and were reported at the UKPSF annual meeting held at Harper Adams University in April 2015.

    • Increased awareness and appreciation of the importance and value of plant science to the UK and globally.
    • Greater awareness and interest in plant science at all levels of education.
    • More plant scientists entering professional teaching and researchers engaging with schools.
    • Universities to value the impact of plant science with respect to their recruitment priorities.
    • Universities to establish a clear thread of plant science in biology degrees, leading to skills that are valued and sought after by employers and research organisations internationally.
    • Education and training to cover a wide range of plant sciences and equip students with a variety of skills.
    • Stronger training links between academia and industry to ensure that Higher Education courses are fit for purpose in industry and are employer focussed.

    We need to be able to recognise and identify the pests and diseases that threaten our crops; we need to be able to respond to problems posed to our countryside and its animal and plant inhabitants by climate change and invasive species. 

    Without a new cadre of well-trained plant scientists and crop protection specialists, ready to combat current and future threats to our crops and native plant species, UK food security and biodiversity will be significantly at risk.

    At Harper Adams University we are ideally placed to respond to the issues raised in the report. We run the only UK-based MSc degrees in Entomology, Plant Pathology, Plant Nematology, Weed Science, Integrated Pest Management and also Conservation & Forest Protection. 

    We also offer undergraduate degrees in agriculture that include modules in Crop Protection and Agronomy.

    A number of recent key appointments and our multidisciplinary Centre for Integrated Pest Management (CIPM) mean that we at Harper Adams University are also in an excellent position to undertake research in these areas."

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