Meet the expert...

Chris Cheffings © Chris Cheffings

This issue we focus on Evidence Manager Chris Cheffings who has worked for JNCC since 2002 when she joined the organisation as Plant Specialist. From 1999-2002 she was a Research Fellow in plant electrophysiology at the University of Cambridge.


What prompted your interest in plants?

Aged three I discovered the word ‘botanist’ and decided that it sounded much more interesting than growing up to be a princess or a train driver.  I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but so far I haven’t regretted the decision.


What has been your involvement with ash dieback?

I have been a member of the emergency group set up by Defra as well as the Core Stakeholder Group.  My main role has been to make sure that the importance of biodiversity impacts were not forgotten and to spot ways in which JNCC could assist in evidence provision.


What measures have been put in place at JNCC to tackle ash dieback and other plant health issues?

We have been working over a number of years to raise the profile of biodiversity within plant health work.  Ash dieback has given us the opportunity to demonstrate how well-placed we are to provide rapid, scientific advice on an unexpected issue.  The investments that we have made in data management and analysis really show their worth when you need to provide reliable and rapid evidence.  Our relationships with partners are also key in making sure that we can quickly quality assure the advice we are giving, as well as plan for any future monitoring needs.  The importance of investments in data management and building up strong partner relationships can often be forgotten, but they have been crucial in being able to play a part in tackling ash die-back as well as responding to other plant health issues.


What has been you most significant achievement working for JNCC?

I like to know that a real difference has occurred on the ground, not just some fine words in a document.  So on that basis I think I would select the work I did with Defra and Botanic Gardens Conservation International to assist the Chinese government develop a plant conservation strategy for China. At the most recent Convention on Biological Diversity conference, China reported rapid implementation of the strategy as a key success.


Looking at the UK plant health in the future, what concerns you most?

The unknowns. Legislative frameworks are generally designed to tackle known problems, but most of the plant health issues that are impacting the natural environment were unknown and hence unregulated until too late.  We need to find ways of preventing problems occurring in the first place, which means not bringing unknown pests and diseases into the UK.  The problems are broadly similar to those of invasive non-native species, but diseases in particular are hard to spot.


If you had to choose a favourite plant, what would it be and why?

I’ve always been fascinated by broomrapes – amazing plants which lack any green pigment, and which rely on parasitising the roots of other plants to get nutrients.  The species in the UK are all valued members of ecosystems, with several rare and beautiful plants.  However, in some parts of the world the branched broomrape has become a noxious weed, sometimes causing crop failures.  At least that is a plant health problem that we don’t have!


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