Plant Doctors stand at Edinburgh Science Festival

25 Apr 2014

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Written by Minghui Yin (University of Edinburgh/BSPP Outreach Intern).

April saw the first-ever BSPP outreach event in Scotland! Katie (BSPP Outreach Officer) made the long journey from Bristol but fortunately for me, this event was local!

What was it?

Edinburgh International Science Festival is a celebration of science and technology and aims to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to discover the wonder of the world around them.

As part of the festival BSPP Outreach ran the Plant Doctors stand at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) from 12th to 13th April. We showcased a range of activities that aimed to engage different age groups and also families, including 'Make a Plant Attacker', 'Plant Doctors' and new 'Save Our Plants' activities. Have a look at some more photos from the event here!

Day 1

We were off to a great start; Dr Paul Beales from FERA took the lead with our most successful activity: making models of plant attackers. All the volunteers were very engaging and their enthusiasm helped get children interested in plant pathology. By asking visitor questions, volunteers got people thinking about how we should protect plants. It was great to hear one young visitor say that we must 'stop pathogen spreading'.

Children and parents were also interested in the 'Plant Doctors' activity. Visitors diagnosed plant patients; and examined the bean rust fungus under the microscope. We had a great range of pathogens to look at, including some potato plants (in sealed boxes) exhibiting symptoms of potato late blight (Phytophthora infestans) and potato virus Y.

Stephan Helfer (RBGE Senior Plant Pathologist) led a walk around the Botanic Gardens to hunt for signs of plant pathogens. We found plenty of examples of horse chestnut bleeding canker and rhododendron bud blast.

Day 2

On the second day we had totally new team of volunteers, including Dr Remco Stam (James Hutton Institute) whose fantastic time-lapse videos of plant diseases were a great eye-catching backdrop to our activities. Louise Gamble also brought her 11-year-old daughter along, who was a great help on the plant attacker model team. Our new activity 'Save Our Plants' received a lot attention. We introduced three major plant disease control options: pesticides, biological control and genetic modification. Both young students and adults enjoyed discussing the benefits and drawbacks of each method and voted their favourite; Bio-control was the most popular at this event.

Thank you!

We had a fun (but exhausting) time! We'd like to say thank you to all the volunteers who helped raise interest in plant science with the visitors. It was great to meet you all and hope to see you at future BSPP events!


  • Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture: Dr Alexandra Schlenzig and Dr Monika Krol.
  • James Hutton Institute: Gaetan Thilliez, Pauline Van Weymers, Ruari MacLeod, Laura Stevens, Dionne Turnbull, Dr Vivian Blok, Tiago Amaro, Graham Motion, Natalja Kulagina, Louise Gamble and Dr Remco Stam. 
  • Heriot-Watt University of Edinburgh: Sarah O'Flaherty.
  • Food and Environment Research Agency: Dr Paul Beales (BSPP Outreach Mentor).
  • BSPP: Katie Tomlinson (Outreach Officer), Dr Diane Hird (Outreach Advisor).

Venue and event organisers:

Thank you to the Royal Botanic Gardens for hosting us and letting us have ample tea and coffee!

Thank you to Edinburgh International Science Festival for putting together a great event.


Katie would like to thank Minghui Yin (University of Edinburgh/BSPP Outreach Intern) for all her hard work and getting off to a flying start with her internship! Also thanks to Professor Lesley Torrance (JHI) and Tom Pitman (University of Bristol) for supplying plants.