Ash dieback latest: Defra management plan issued

Defra has admitted it will be impossible to eradicate ash dieback from the UK in its management plan published on 26th March.

The department also fails to offer any specific support for nurseries which have had to discard unsaleable ash.

The plan (click here) released by the department outlines four key objectives as follows: 

  • Reducing the rate of spread of the disease
  • Developing resistance to the disease in the native ash tree population
  • Encouraging  landowner, citizen and industry engagement in surveillance, monitoring and action in tackling the problem
  • Building economic and environmental resilience in woodlands.

The Government does not offer any specific support for nurseries which have had to discard unsaleable ash.

Defra said it is planting 250,000 ash saplings in the east and south east so Defra scientists and the Forestry Commission and local landowners can monitor the trees for signs of Chalara, paying particular attention to any signs of resistance.

The Government's Chalara Action Plan, was issued on 26 March more than a year after it first found the disease in the country.

In that time, chalara fraxinea has spread nationwide and Defra has introduced a plant health team into the department, as it stuggled to respond to the disease.

University of Cambridge modelling work has found that windborne infection is likely to recur, with the south east and east particularly at risk.

Defra added that the models show which areas are most hazardous, adding: "Intervention would be more cost-effective at a site with a high hazard value but which has a low risk of becoming infected [ie not in east of south east where windborne infection is most likely].

"Tackling an infection here  would have a large impact due to the high hazard value with a low probability of additional infections occurring.

"Intervention would be less cost-effective at a site with a low hazard value and a high risk of becoming infected since any attempt to tackle new or existing 11 infections would be rapidly outweighed by the continual infection pressure from elsewhere.

"If recently planted sites are a major contributor to further disease spread then removal of these sites will delay the progress of the epidemic by up to three years nationally. There is considerable regional variation in this figure, with the Eastern and South-East regions experiencing delays of less than one year whereas the South-West and Scotland could experience delays of over three years."

Defra says it will support replanting with alternative species, and in higher priority areas and removal and disposal of recently-planted infected ash trees. This will be possible where these were originally funded under the England Woodland Grant Scheme.

Defra will also actively explore whether there is any capacity in the Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Scheme to do likewise and provide an update on this at the end of April 2013.

The Government will not support felling of uninfected ash but will retain restrictions on movement of ash. There will be no designated disease-free areas.

Treatments may have a role in protecting individual trees or groups of trees, the department says, or reducing production of spores, level of damage and rate of spread in some circumstances. Defra is trialling Systhane, Alto 100SL, Proline, Indar 5EW, Consul, Amistar, Imtrex, Aviator 235 XPro, Signum, Dithane 945, Scala, Dithianon WG, garlic extract and Cuprokylt FL.

Horticultural Trades Association policy manager Gary Scroby said: "As the plan itself admits, it does not yet address the problem with the thousands of ash trees in hedgerows, rail embankments, parks gardens and streets, nor the trees destined for such locations which are now sat worthless in amenity nurseries.

"There is a commitment to work with this sector over the coming few months to minimise the impact of Chalara, but we have been in talks with Defra since the turn of the year and so far all our suggestions for support have not found favour. 

"Despite growers’ warnings in 2009 of the dangers of the disease, the government has refused to compensate growers and there is no equivalent to RDPE funding that can help provide economic and environmental resilience in this sector.

"Growers have endured significant losses and some face legal action from their customers."

  • A meeting organised by the HTA and forestry body Confor to discuss ash dieback biosecurity will take place at the Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) in York on 30 May. Speakers include Defra minister Lord De Mauley and FERA chief plant health officer Martin Ward.

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