Forestry body demands Defra plant health action as ash crisis continues

Forestry confederation Confor has called on the Government to prioritise plant health at Defra as an immediate response to the Chalara ash dieback crisis.

The confederation, which promotes forestry and wood and represents around 2,000 forest and wood-using businesses across the UK, said there is an urgent need to provide additional resources for the Forestry Commission, FERA and the private sector to put in place effective plant health border control and support the UK’s tree nurseries so that they can grow the trees the country requires.
 
Speaking to the inaugural meeting of the National Forestry Stakeholder Forum on 31 October, Secretary of State Owen Paterson MP announced a tree health summit and called on the forestry sector to provide practical ideas to tackle tree disease.  

Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall said: "We welcome this positive call to action from the Secretary of State and look forward to a constructive meeting next week. We are committed to working with Government and NGOs to tackle the increasing threat of tree disease, but immediate action is required and current resources are inadequate.

"We need to survey, identify and destroy infected ash trees in the country, while also managing existing tree diseases, such as ramorum disease of larch.  Resources are stretched beyond breaking point."

The Forestry Commission is surveying all the sites where suspect ash trees have been planted in the last five years.  This amounts to several thousand and the Forestry Commission, which has suffered cuts of 25 per cent, is struggling to achieve this before the autumn leaf-fall, says Confor. They are also surveying suspect sites of established woodland in addition to their normal roles.

Goodall added: "I know that the Government is shy of discussing compensation, but owners should not be penalised for coming forward when they suspect infection in their woodlands. A better solution is required urgently."

Confor’s Nursery Producers’ Group members have already taken action to help woodland owners and managers, for example, by clearly stating on certificates where seed has been grown.  This information has always been available on request.  

Confor said longer-term actions need to be put in place. These include, greater resource for research, including looking for any strains of ash that might be resistant to infection; and horizon-scanning to see what other pests and diseases may be heading this way and seeking means to deter them.

Confor’s Nursery Producers Group represents the seven largest forest nurseries in the UK and they collectively produce 47 million trees per year and import 10 million. Membership rules insist that seed provenance information is made available to customers, as well as details of which country the plants were grown in.

Meanwhile, an 'Audit of Plant Pathology Education and Training in the UK,'  published by the British Society for Plant Pathology, reports a serious decline in teaching and research on plant diseases in British universities and colleges. See www.bspp.org.uk/society/bspp_plant_pathology_audit_2012.php


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