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UK’s First Tree Decay Detector Dog attends The ARB Show 2023

On the 12th and 13th of May 2023, Sika our Tree Decay Detection Dog attended The ARB Show at Westonbirt Arboretum. The ARB Show is the Arboricultural Association’s flagship event celebrating the diversity of tree care services on offer in the UK. A must-attend for arborists and tree consultants looking to expand their skills and knowledge. Over two days the show was attended by over 6000 people…and one very special dog.

Who is Sika?

Sika Button is a border collie who has been specially trained by principal consultant Ivan to identify decay-inducing pathogens within trees. By harnessing her powerful canine sense of smell, Sika is able to identify trees infected 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. Joining the team in 2013 she spent her formative years learning to identify and seek out, numerous UK decay-inducing pathogens.

What was she doing at the Arb Show?

Sika spent the mornings next to Crown Tree Consultancy’s stand, wowing attendees by demonstrating that she could correctly locate a piece of decay fungi hidden under one of six piles of logs.

 

Sika, the tree decay detection dog, and principal arboricultural consultant Ivan Button next to a demonstration stand at the #ARBshow23.

In the afternoon, dressed in her very smart working dog hi-vis, she accompanied the Forestry Commission on their pests and diseases walk. This was an opportunity to show off her skills in real life as there are a few trees known to the arboretum to have pockets of decay in them. It was also a chance for us to talk to others within the arboricultural industry about further potential applications for detector dogs and plant biosecurity.

 

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

On Saturday, Sika and Ivan gave a short presentation in the (magnificent) Great Oak Hall, followed by another scenting demonstration outside where she found a variety of pre-hidden fungi.

Sika, the tree decay detection dog, and principal arboricultural consultant Ivan Button giving a presentation about olfaction and tree decay at the #ARBshow23.
Sika, the tree decay detection dog, and principal arboricultural consultant Ivan Button giving a live demonstration of Sika scenting tree decay at the #ARBshow23.

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

Where do you use her?

Sika is able to operate in busy urban environments as well as gardens and woodlands. She is able to cover large tracts of ground assisting with efficient surveys of large estates.

When can we next see Sika in action!?

We are thrilled to announce that Sika will be attending the Arboricultural Association’s Amenity Conference at the University of Warwick, held between the 10th and 13th of September. In the meantime, 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!)

 

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