The minister said during the meeting he did not want to raise anyone's hopes over the issue of compensation for the millions of pounds lost because of the disease.
The meeting which took place on Tuesday was followed yesterday by a Defra summit on the ash crisis which brought together parties involved with woodland and forests to look at how best to tackle tree pest and diseases. Ideas from the meeting may be included in an ash dieback disease action plan to be published on Friday. The meeting heard that further cases of the disease have been confirmed in woodland in Sussex, Berkshire, Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Northumberland. The disease has now been confirmed in 115 sites.
The HTA says it may take legal advice if Defra does not act after results are released of a survey of money lost by growers because of the disease. Growers affeted by crisis are being urged to complete the survey immediately. They can access the survey here.
The ban on the import and movement of ash has made this year’s ash crop redundant, and UK growers face "potentially crippling" financial losses. Some nurseries have already incurred expensive costs in complying with destruction orders served on trees that are infected, or considered at risk of infection.
The HTA says because growers warned the Forestry Commission and FERA about the disease in 2009, compensation should be paid. The response at the time was that the pathogen was already considered endemic in Great Britain and quarantine measures were therefore not appropriate. But in 2010 science caught up with the nature of the disease and identified the new, more virulent strain which had been causing the damage in Europe.
Lord de Mauley acknowledged the difficulties that growers faced but did not want to raise expectations of the prospect of compensation. He reiterated the government’s long-standing policy to commit the plant health budget to disease surveillance, control and research rather than compensation. He undertook to consider the situation carefully in light of the impending results of a HTA survey that will more accurately reflect the true commercial ramifications for growers.
HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe said: "We took the opportunity to draw attention to the EU budget mechanism that would appear to allow HMG to claim up to 50 per cent of control costs and 25 per cent of loss of earnings’ compensation for growers. This would compare with the compensation provided to farmers in the wake of BSE and Foot and Mouth epidemics, and we hope that the Government will respond sympathetically to our growers’ plight in the current circumstances. If not, we may need to resort to legal advice on how best to safeguard the industry’s interests."