Defra publishes new strategy on ash dieback

Published 17th Dec 2012

Defra has published a new strategy to tackle ash dieback which has drawn qualified support from industry bodies.

The Chalara Control Plan sets out the Government’s objectives for tackling the disease and outlines what further action needs to be taken over the next few months.

The plan focuses on reducing the rate of spread, developing resistance to the disease in the native UK ash tree population, encouraging citizen, landowner and industry engagement and action in tackling the problem and building resilience in the UK woodland and associated industries.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “We need to radically rethink how we deal with the threats to our trees. That’s why I asked Defra’s chief scientist to lead a panel of experts to identify what needs to be done to tackle the growing problem of tree diseases.

“While the science tells us it won’t be possible to eradicate this disease, we mustn’t give up on British ash.

“The plan I have set out today shows our determination to slow the spread and minimise the impact of Chalara.

“It will also give us time to find those trees with genetic resistance to the disease and to restructure our woodlands to make them more resilient.”

The Control Plan outlines some additional actions including: researching spore production at infected sites, working closely with other European countries that have been affected by chalara to share data and experience on resistance to the disease, funding a study to accelerate the development of the ObservaTREE, a tree health early warning system using volunteer groups and working with the horticulture and nursery sectors on long-term resilience to the impact of chalara and other plant health threats.

An independent Task Force on Tree and Plant Health has also published its interim recommendations today after it was set up by Professor Ian Boyd, Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser, to assess the current disease threats to the UK.

The Task Force’s interim recommendations are that the Government should:

  • Develop a prioritised UK Risk Register for tree health and plant biosecurity.
  • Strengthen biosecurity to reduce risks at the border and within the UK.
  • Appoint a chief plant health officer to own the UK Risk Register and provide strategic and tactical leadership for managing those risks.
  • Review and strengthen governance and legislation.
  • Maximise the use of epidemiological intelligence from EU/other regions and work to improve the EU regulations concerned with tree and plant biosecurity.
  • Develop and implement procedures for preparedness and contingency planning to predict and control the spread of disease.
  • Develop a modern, user-friendly, expert system to provide quick and intelligent access to data about tree health and plant biosecurity, and identify and address key skills shortages.

HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe said:”Whilst we are sceptical that control measures will have any material effect on the speed of spread, we will work with Government as they seek to implement their interim control plan on young infected trees.

This will see the destruction of infected trees on nurseries, but containment only of infected trees on newly planted sites until the national survey and epidemiological models are complete and a more accurate cost versus benefit calculation of control measures can be made. We also fully support the proposals for genetic research into identifying and breeding resistance to the disease in the UK ash population.

He added: “The plan spells out some longer term resilience measures, but it fails to address the immediate revenue and cash flow implications for nurseries that find themselves with redundant ash stock worth a total of £2.5 million, and in some cases the added cost of destruction of thousands of young trees.

These are small, rural, family businesses that may struggle to survive the outbreak. Their demise would merely expose the UK to more imported material in the longer term, and we therefore call on Defra to pay immediate attention to their plight and will reiterate this when we meet Defra ministers next week.”

Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall said: “Experience abroad suggests that there is little we can do, so we are concerned that limited resources are put to best use. There is a real danger that an over-ambitious focus on reducing spread will take away resource from other vital areas of work, such as, putting in place a practical strategy for limiting the danger of future outbreaks and Forestry Commission resources for promoting forestry expansion and management.”

He added: “All such orders must be evidence-based and where individuals are forced to take action for the public good, they should not be penalised. Support should be provided to replant these young trees with other species, otherwise the fear of these orders could be a deterrent to reporting suspected infection.

“It is also imperative that costs are minimised, ensuring that the destruction measures are not gold-plated. For example, is it really necessary to destroy the tree-guard and the stake used to hold it in the ground, as well as the tree?”



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