The social and natural scientists found that pathogens such as Phytophthora ramorum have the potential to kill large numbers of trees across a wide range of species, with serious consequences for heritage gardens, rural landscapes and the horticultural trade.
They suggested that Government agencies and third-sector environmental groups could give more attention to the threat that invasive diseases pose to biodiversity and use their influence to raise the awareness of both policy-makers and the public so those visiting gardens become more conscious of the dangers of cross-infection.
Acknowledging that diseases tend to come into the UK via imported plants, the researchers said the UK should acknowledge the difficult trade-offs to be made between freer trade and effective biosecurity.
Imperial College London's Dr Clive Potter, who led the research, said: "There is a need for a more critical and interdisciplinary analysis of the underlying causes of the growing threat to biosecurity and of conflicts between those advocating further market liberalisation in the context of the single European market and those arguing for restrictions on trade in the interests of biosecurity.
"In a more general sense, we also need much more public debate about the threat from tree diseases in relation to other, better recognised environmental challenges like climate change. Valuation surveys from our research suggest a lack of public awareness and this translated into an unwillingness to pay for control measures."
- The Food & Environment Research Agency is holding a meeting at the Landhydrock Hotel in Cornwall on 11 March to discuss the Phytophthora Programme. To attend, email Carol Jackson on firstname.lastname@example.org.