Ash growers vent anger over 'insulting' 7.5p price offered by Defra for trial trees

Defra launches field trials to develop resistance to ash dieback disease but growers baulk at low price offered for trees.

Chalara fraxinea 2012 outbreak - image: Defra
Chalara fraxinea 2012 outbreak - image: Defra

Defra has been accused of acting "insultingly" to hardy nursery stock growers by buying 250,000 ash trees at a knockdown price to run an ash dieback field trial.

The nursery stock suppliers are angry that the Government has banned them from selling their trees and is offering them no compensation, in contrast to money given to landowners for sourcing replacement trees for any hit by outbreaks of Chalara fraxinea.

The Defra ash planting is designed for research across 25 sites, located mainly in East Anglia, in a £1.5m project that is part of the Chalara Management Plan published on 26 March. Defra hopes that one per cent of the trees will live to five years old and prove to be resistant to ash dieback, which hit the UK in 2012.

The one-year-old trees will come from Maelor Forest Nurseries, Oakover Nurseries, Cheviot Nurseries and Forestry Commission Delamere. But several nurseries including Crowders and Christie Elite turned down initial offers of 7.5p a tree as being too little. Wyevale also had a tender rejected.

Forestry Commission Centre for Forest Resources & Management programme group manager Dr Steve Lee asked 10 nurseries for 25,000 trees each but was forced to rely on donations and his own nursery to stock the trial. Defra claims to have spent £27,000 of the £1.5m project cost on trees, but industry estimates put that closer to £5,000.

HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe said: "The whole thing is insulting to growers. Defra's way of saying they are helping the industry is by buying ash off growers instead of giving compensation, but they know no one can buy ash so they don't have to pay the market rate. It's out of the spirit of it and some growers have said 'take a hike'."

Crowders marketing director Simon Ellis added: "They offered us £75 per 1,000 trees, which from our point of view means that it's not worth us getting them out of the field. We don't like having the mickey taken out of us. It would be cheaper to plough them in."

He said it is surprising that the Government is offering compensation to "landed gentry" but not "offering a bean to the amenity landscape sector".

A dozen nurseries have suggested compensation schemes such as cleansing grants to Defra, but all were rejected, added Ellis.

Christie Elite managing director Matt Hommell said: "The whole thing is pretty disgraceful. At 7.5p, it's half the going rate. Defra made lots of noises about helping nurseries but then they decided not to compensate anyone or pay the going rate. It's an insult."

Briercliffe said amenity suppliers were offered nothing because they supply businesses and local authorities rather than landowners and are not eligible for Rural Development Grant cash. "These growers have really lost out," he added.

Crowders has 180,000 unsaleable ash, while Wyevale has £200,000 of stock and Christie Elite has 120,000 unusable trees.

Price agreement

"In purchasing the trees we have been guided by the Forest Enterprise framework contract negotiated through fair and open competition with UK nurseries. After negotiation with the HTA, a price of £90 per 1,000 trees + VAT was agreed and this has been accepted by suppliers, the HTA and Forest Research."

Dianne Stilwell, Forest Research representative

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