Young ash trees infected by the Chalara fraxinea fungus, which causes the disease, have been found this year in six nurseries and four planting sites in England and Scotland. The Forestry Commission and Fera are taking emergency measures to prevent the disease spreading into ash trees in the wider environment.
Fera has also published a Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) drafted by tree health scientists at the Forestry Commission’s Forest Research agency. It has invited views on the analysis by 26 October, with a view to using it to support national legislation to protect the UK from the risk of accidentally importing the disease from continental Europe, where it is widespread.
The HTA this week called for a voluntary moratorium by its members on the importation of ash plants. It also called on the plant health authorities to compensate tree owners who are required to destroy diseased plants, and for the Forestry Commission to permit woodland owners who are committed to grant-aided tree-planting schemes which include ash trees to use alternative species without loss of grant.
Forestry Commission plant health service head Dr John Morgan said: "We welcome this responsible move by the HTA to take a lead for industry by calling for a voluntary moratorium on importing ash plants, and we hope that other sectors will follow suit by adopting their own voluntary moratorium on planting imported ash trees. The season for importing ash trees will begin shortly after the consultation period has ended, and a voluntary moratorium would certainly give us a useful degree of extra protection while further measures are evaluated."
Dr Morgan said the Commission had considered its response to concerns about already-approved tree-planting schemes in which ash trees were among the species approved for Forestry Commission grant aid.
He added: "We fully understand the concerns of woodland owners who have signed up to plant ash trees in their woodland planting schemes with Forestry Commission grant support or under felling-licence conditions. We will operate a flexible approach for those customers with existing grant or licence agreements.
"However, where those agreements specify ash as a planting species it is essential that owners discuss the situation with their local woodland officer before planting alternatives."
Dr Morgan said there is no provision for compensation for tree owners who were required by Statutory Plant Health Notices served by Fera or the Forestry Commission to destroy infected plants, adding: "It has been the position of successive UK Governments that the risks from plant pests and diseases, like other risks, are part of routine business management, and that the risk should therefore be borne by the businesses concerned. As such, compensation from public resources is not appropriate. It is considered that the limited public resources available are better allocated to surveillance, research and management of pests and diseases to help mitigate any impact on businesses associated with the growing and management of trees."
Consultation feedback is at www.fera.defra.gov.uk/plants/consultations/index.cfm until 26 October.
Further information about Chalara dieback of ash is available from the Forestry Commission’s website at www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara.