Defra issues biosecurity strategy and tree health plans

New documents detail plant health strategies to 2020 and beyond.

Chalara-infected ash tree - image:Forestry Commission
Chalara-infected ash tree - image:Forestry Commission

Defra has issued a biosecurity strategy and tree health management plan.

The plant biosecurity strategy for Great Britain provides a "high level overview of the activity that Defra and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales are undertaking to improve plant biosecurity".

The strategy has been developed in consultation with stakeholders and details how this activity will meet the recommendations of the Independent Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce.

The biosecurity strategy gives a "vision" for 2020 "to protect plants from pests that have been identified as priorities for action, and to  build awareness of the risks from pests, knowledge of how to reduce those risks and to introduce a  system of management that will incentivise risk reduction.

The report states that to achieve this by 2020 there will be:

• An effective and sustainable plant health service which makes risk-based decisions within a
transparent, evidence based and consistent framework that is focused on long-term benefits,
as well as timely short-term actions to tackle immediate problems;

• Greater awareness of plant biosecurity among government, industry, NGOs, landowners and
the public who will have confidence in the plant biosecurity system and will understand and be
committed to playing their role;

• Strengthened international regimes for safe movement of plant material in international trade to prevent the arrival of pests;

• Enhanced capability, capacity and collaboration in plant health with enhanced governance and
systems in place to share information across all those with a role to play in plant biosecurity;

• New and enhanced technology and scientific tools to enable better detection of pests. This will
aim to improve our understanding of pest behaviour, and of the social and behavioural factors
affecting biosecurity, enabling us to better target action and increase the chances of success in
tackling outbreaks.

• A resilient environment with species choice, design and management approaches ensuring we
are more able to deal with pests which become established;

• A revised strategy with refined goals to ensure optimal delivery.

The tree plan provides an update on research into chalara, Phytophthora and oak processionary moth.

The Chalara pathogen has been tested for sensitivity to 17 chemical pesticides. Preliminary results indicate it is sensitive to a number of chemical pesticides under laboratory conditions.

Further research will test treatments under field conditions. Defra says further evidence is needed on whether treatments can form part of a practical, cost-effective and sustainable management strategy in some situations.

The report states that the five-year Phytophthora Research Programme from 2009 to 2013 "has enhanced knowledge and understanding of P. ramorum and P. kernoviae alongside a wider programme of disease management and stakeholder and public engagement work (including understanding behaviour change).

It adds: "All the research broadly supports disease management, especially by improving epidemiological and biological understanding (including host range and susceptibility, growth, infection, sporulation, survival and spread) and associated impacts of the pathogens and of management actions.

On OPM, one approved biopesticide and two approved chemical treatments have been tested in field trials at outbreak sites against OPM, applied with both high and low volume application methods. Results have yet to show a statistically significant positive effect, but nest numbers have been low in both the treated trees and untreated control trees.

Bioassays of novel treatments have highlighted the potential of entomopathogenic nematodes and fungi for use in future control strategies.

Chief plant health officer Nicola Spence said: "Safeguarding the future of our trees and plants is enormously important for all of us - they supply the air we breathe, support our economy and provide us all with enjoyment and recreation.

"This strategy shows Britain is leading the way when it comes to protecting plants and trees from biosecurity threats."

The National Trust said: "We welcome the publication of the strategy but it is unclear if there is sufficient funding or resources being allocated to this problem to really make a difference."

"Trees and plants don’t have votes so cuts to Defra’s budgets are sometimes seen as easier for Government but the consequences can be devastating for our wildlife, landscapes and rural economy."

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