New risks from disease

Phytophthora threat increases as symptoms spread to more hosts

Phytophthora ramorum is adding new hosts and new symptoms at an alarming rate, according to the head of the Government’s plant health division. Speaking at a meeting on Monday at the Central Science Laboratory in York, Stephen Hunter said: “One of the many challenges with trying to diagnose Phytophthora ramorum is that the disease looks so different on each host.” The meeting, hosted by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs for interested organisations, was held to explain the current position regarding the disease, the science and the situation in both the UK and the US. Partner Will Murch from Osberton Nursery gave a talk from the hardy nursery stock perspective and National Trust garden adviser for the South West of England Bill Malecki gave an historic garden perspective. The disease is already taking a toll on the industry. Malecki said he has advised against pruning Taxus baccata hedges at infected sites. “Yew is a host for Phytophthora ramorum and we now know that pruning may help to spread the disease by creating a wound for the spores to enter. So on sites where the disease is found, we are not going to prune. It poses a grave threat to historic gardens because of the potential loss of important specimens, whole collections and even the prospect of having to destroy healthy plants.” He commended advice from the National Trust and the Plant Health & Seeds Inspectorate. “But it is paramount there is adequate funding for DEFRA to continue its work. At the moment we still don’t know enough to make informed choices on how to manage the disease.” Next month, Hunter will attend the EU Plant Health Standing Committee to review the current emergency regulatory action.

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