A messy outcome for ash

Ministers' seemingly arbitrary decision this week to lift restrictions on the movement and imports of ash for some nurseries -- and the frustration it has caused among many leading UK nurserymen - is perhaps best seen as the inevitable messy outcome of a regime that has made a mess of the issue from the start.

The very best thing that Defra could have done would have been to have acted on the potential threat from Chalara when alerted to the issue, back in 2009, by the horticulture industry via the offices of the HTA after a visit by UK nursery representatives to Denmark.

The nurserymen made recommendations for import controls that, had they been acted upon, may have dramatically changed the outcome for one of
our most prevalent native trees, 90 per cent of which are now thought likely
to be lost before the Chalara crisis has played itself out. But, of course, that did not happen.

Instead, when Chalara was already here, Defra announced a ban on imports and movement of existing stock in the UK that has cost many domestic nurseries dear — and for which they have received no compensation.

As Boningale chairman and European Nurserystock Association UK representative Tim Edwards notes, logically ministers couldn’t help but lift a ban whose purpose was to prevent the arrival of Chalara when Chalara is clearly present throughout the UK.

But that will never lessen the frustration at what might have been prevented — and the fear that the message that will now go out to the wider world is that ash dieback is no longer a problem.

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