DEFRA increases inspections as Phytophthora ramorum spreads

Inspections stepped up following the discovery of the disease in single Fagus, Aesculus hippocastanum and Quercus ilex trees at two sites in Cornwall

Cornwall is under siege from ramorum dieback after the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs announced it is stepping up inspections following the discovery of the disease in single Fagus, Aesculus hippocastanum and Quercus ilex trees at two sites. The Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey, confirmed that one case was at its site, although it is not known which other location is affected in the outbreak. DEFRA head of plant health Stephen Hunter said: “We are stepping up the level of surveillance [doubling to four times a year at nurseries] by DEFRA and the Forestry Commission.” Hunter said DEFRA would step up import inspections, but there would be no plant import bans, despite infected plants being found for sale at Aalsmeer market in the Netherlands (HW, 20 November). He said lab tests show Picea sitchensis, Pseudotsuga menziesii, Castanea sativa and Chamaecyparis lawsoniana are susceptible. Inspectors found an infected southern red oak, Quercus rubra, last month at an unidentified site in Sussex. Viburnum, Syringa, Camellia, Pieris, Kalmia and Taxus in pots are also affected. In the US, 80 per cent of Californian tan oaks, Lithocarpus densiflorus, have died. More than 80 DEFRA staff are working on the problem and more may be recruited. Horticultural Trades Association director general David Gwyther said: “It could spread wider through the UK tree population, which is extremely bad news.” He added that DEFRA has now acknowledged that it must review its position on compensation, with some nurseries having spent five-figure sums dealing with the problem. He said the HTA may suggest growers bring in voluntary measures, including pre-notification to inspectors of deliveries of at-risk plants, plant quarantines and a “formal” self-inspection procedure.

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