The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is calling on gardeners, nature lovers and citizen scientists to help the UK respond to the threat of Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium that results in the disease and death of many popular garden plants.
The charity, working with the University of Sussex and Forest Research, needs thousands of volunteers to help map the distribution of spittlebugs. It is one of the chief carriers of Xylella, that can be found in gardens, meadows, grasslands and woodlands from April to late June.
Spittlebugs, also called froghoppers, are small, sap-sucking insects that can transmit Xylella as they move between and feed on plants. The most common species in the UK is the meadow spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius). Adults measure 1/2 cm long, vary in pattern and colour from pale brown to black and can jump up to 70 cm. There are ten species of spittlebug in the UK and the young – called nymphs – all produce whitish, frothy blobs of spittle on leaves and branches.
Each volunteer is being asked to report sightings of spittle, whether in their garden or on plants elsewhere, online through iRecord after registering. Volunteers will need to report their name, the location the spittle was seen and when, and most importantly the species of plant on which it was found. This information will help researchers understand how Xylella might enter and spread in the UK. Further information about the survey and froghoppers can be found here.
This citizen science study forms part of a broader research project called BRIGIT. It is being delivered by a consortium of eleven leading UK research organisations, all working to enhance UK surveillance and response to Xylella fastidiosa.
In light of the threat of Xylella, the RHS has revised its plant health policy called on gardeners and the industry to future proof gardens by purchasing host plants that are UK-sourced or grown and maintaining varied plantings.
The launch of the spittlebug survey follows an updated assessment on the risks posed by Xylella fastidiosa to plants and crops in the European Union by the European Food Safety Authority earlier this week.