This year “Ash Wednesday” took on a whole new meaning for me. Instead of experiencing the feelings of regret over the number of pancakes I’d eaten the night before, or deliberating over what I should give up for lent – I was putting the finishing touches on our new Ash Dieback website. This is an online resource that collates the latest research, funding and policy news on Chalara ash dieback.
Following the outbreak of ash dieback in the UK last year I spent a considerable amount of time speaking with scientists and policy advisers who were keen to do something to help combat this serious disease. Some fantastic initiatives were starting up but many of the people involved said that they weren’t sure who else was doing what, where they could find the right expertise, and when relevant meetings were being held.
It was clear that by joining up the various projects and creating a better flow of information, we could progress more effectively in tackling ash dieback. I began sending out regular email updates on research findings, funding opportunities, meetings, policy developments and requests for collaboration. However to reach a wider audience it made sense to make the information accessible to everyone via a website.
I’m very pleased to say that the UKPSF Ash Dieback site is now up and running! People can sign up via the homepage to receive our regular E-bulletin and anyone who has relevant information that they would like to share can forward it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Collaboration and information sharing will be key elements that determine our success at addressing the problem of ash dieback, so I’ve been really impressed with the crowdsourcing approach that several initiatives have taken. For example, The Sainsbury Lab in Norwich recently set up OpenAshDieback, an open access website for sharing genomics data on ash and ash dieback, which provides scientists with free and instant access to one another’s data before it is published.
You don’t need to be a scientist or policymaker to help in the fight against ash dieback; it is something that almost anyone can do thanks to the advent of citizen science. In our blog article on 7th November, Rebecca Nesbit highlighted the AshTag smartphone app which allows people to send photographs and location data of suspected sightings directly to the Forestry Commission, which will assist them in tracking the spread and distribution of the disease.