Defra defends record on oak processionary moth

Reacting to criticism by horticulturist Ken Cox, Defra says it is on top of biosecurity issues.

In an interview with Horticulture Week Ken Cox, the managing director of Glendoick Gardens, criticised the Government for taking too long to tackle the tree pest oak processionary moth (OPM).

The human health and biosecurity risk pest has recently been found in multiple locations in Britain, in some cases having been imported direct to landscape projects, despite theoretically being limited to the London area. Many in the industry now believe the pest cannot be stopped becoming established UK-wide. Industry figures such as The Royal Parks' Andrew Scattergood have now called for a Government campaign to educate the public about the dangers of OPM.

On 1 July, Biosecurity minister Lord Gardiner told Horticulture Week he was angry about the spread of the pest and vowed to introduce measures to stop it, which Defra did on 12 July.

Cox said it has taken the Government three years to introduce proper measures following a finding of OPM at the Chelsea Flower Show, on a direct import, in 2016. The pest was first found near Kew in London in 2006 and has since spread around London and parts of the Home Counties. In February 2019, the RHS banned oak from Chelsea.

Defra, in a blog on its website in response to Cox's comments, said it "it is not that case that it had not acted quickly on OPM: "We have had a series of measures in place since January 2013, when a statutory notification for oak was first introduced.

"In 2018, we introduced measures to restrict the import of oak trees. Only last week we introduced even tighter controls on oak imports. The latest legislation means imports of larger oak trees are only allowed from OPM-free countries, from designated pest-free areas including Protected Zones (PZ) - an area of the European Union declared free of OPM; and those that have been grown under complete physical protection for their full lifetime."

Cox also claimed the Government ought to have a standard risk assessment in place to be able to act quickly if threatened by pests and diseases. Defra said: "This already happens. Since 2014, we have used the UK Plant Health Risk Register to identify and assess the various risks and inform our decisions. This risk register is the most comprehensive in the world. It also provides a technically justified approach to any measures we introduce. This means it focuses on biosecurity protection, while also taking into account the impact on businesses and individuals.

"Protecting our country from pests and diseases is vital to safeguard our environment, economy and health. From 2012 to 2019, we will have invested more than £37 million into tree health research."

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