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An arboricultural consultant and his dog at the Arboricultural Association’s annual amenity conference…

On the 11th and 12th of September 2023, Ivan Button, principal arboricultural consultant at Crown Tree Consultancy, attended the Arboricultural Association’s annual amenity conference at Warwick University. The amenity conference is an event attended by not just arboricultural consultants of all levels, but other members of the tree care services industry in the UK. The event is a must-attend for arborists and tree consultants looking to expand their knowledge and hear the latest research from across the arboricultural world. Over two days the show was attended by over 300 people…but only one, very special, dog…

Why would an Arboricultural Consultant need a dog?

It’s a good question and one which arboricultural consultant Ivan Button answered honestly during his presentation. The answer is; in specific instances. Sika Button is a border collie who has been specially trained by principal consultant Ivan to identify decay-inducing pathogens within trees. Using her super canine scenting skills, Sika is able to identify trees affected by decay fungi at any time of year, even when the fungal fruiting body isn’t present, or visible to the human eye. She can also locate where decay is present beneath the buttress roots and deep within the lower stem. In these ways, Sika is able to assist an arboricultural consultant on a survey looking for decay; especially in a woodland setting.

 

The forestry commission stopping at a veteran tree to investigate pockets of decay fungi at the #ARBshow23.

What was the workshop Ivan and Sika delivered like?

After a brief introduction to the uses and limitations of using Sika as an arboricultural surveyor’s assistant, Ivan explained how he trained her. This covered how he got her to bark to indicate a fungi’s presence, positive feedback (rewarding good behaviour as opposed to using punishment), progressing from playing with a favourite toy to identifying a target scent and much more. Following this Sika did a live demonstration where people hid bits of fungi around the room and she sniffed it all out using her canine detection skills. Audience participants were also able to issue the commands for Sika to look for the fungi.

We have captured a few moments from the workshop in the video below:

 

What can Sika find?

Sika is not just trained to find any fungus, that wouldn’t be very useful, she has been trained on the decay fungi that can be most harmful to trees.

These are some of the fungi Sika is familiar with:

  • Kretzschmaria deusta
  • Meripilus giganteus
  • Ganoderma Spp.
  • Inonotus dryadeus
  • Fistulina hepatica
  • Fomes fomentarius

How does she do it?

Hidden within that shiny wet nose are up to 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to approximately 6 million in the human nose. They also possess up to 40 times larger brain areas devoted to scent analysis. Adding to their list of nasal superiority they have a second olfactory system dedicated purely to chemical communication analysis, like pheromones and VOCs. This is called the vomeronasal organ. Her bottom limit for melling volatile organic compounds is around one part per trillion – equivalent to half a teaspoon of salt dissolved in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

When Sika finds something of interest she barks, Ivan sort of ignores her for a moment, and then she barks again. Two or three good strong barks and Ivan takes that as a sign she has found something of interest and looks at what it is. If she correctly identified decay-inducing fungi, she gets a reward. Sika’s favourite reward is playing with a tennis ball, but she will also settle for a game of tug or some cheddar.

 

Diagram showing the differences between the human and canine olfactory systems

How can we keep up with Sika in 2024?

You can keep up with Sika on our social media channels:

Finally, if you haven’t already signed up to receive our quarterly arboricultural newsletter, pop your email box below (we promise to keep it strictly trees and dogs!)

 

Sika out on an arboricultural survey
Principal arboricultural consultant Ivan button giving a talk at the arb conference

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