Defra is introducing new measures, taking effect on 11 November 2013, concerning Platanus (Plane), Castanea (Sweet chestnut) and Pinus (Pine).
The new measures introduced through the Plant Health (England) (Amendment) (No.3) Order 2013 will mean that movements of plants and trees of plane (excluding seeds) and sweet chestnut (including seed for planting, but not nuts for consumption) into and within England, and from England to other Member States, will need to be accompanied by officially approved documentation confirming that they have been grown in a place of production in a country in which Ceratocystis platani or Cryphonectria parasitica, as appropriate, is known not to occur or an area designated by plant health authorities as free of the relevant disease.
In addition, the existing statutory notification scheme for imports of certain tree species from other EU member states is being extended to include pine trees.
Pine trees are at risk from Dothistroma pini and Dothistroma septosporum (fungi which cause a needle cast of conifers) and Thaumetopoea pityocampa (pine processionary moth).
As well as damaging pines, the hairs of the pine processionary caterpillar larvae cause harmful reactions in humans and other mammals.
Dothistroma septosporum is regulated by the EU Plant Health Directive, but it is present and spreading in parts of the EU (it is known to be present in some parts of the UK). Dothistroma pini is not regulated, but is known to be present in certain other EU member states.
Plant health policy team member Richard McIntosh said: "The risk is that there could be further introductions and spread of these harmful organisms, including the possibility of new strains emerging.
"These changes will help to protect the UK’s plant health status, by strengthening measures already in place in relation to imports of trees."
Imports of pine trees from third countries are already subject to statutory notification (through phytosanitary certification requirements), statutory notification for intra-EU trade will mean that anyone importing pine trees (including young planting material and seeds) must notify Fera in advance of their introduction, providing certain limited information about their destination.
Statutory notification of movements of pine trees will provide intelligence about the level of trade, facilitate tracing in the event of problems, allow targeted inspections to be carried out by Fera and the Forestry Commission and generate evidence in support of further measures, if needed.
It will not be the intention to inspect every consignment notified, but the information will be helpful in making best use of surveillance resources, to focus on the highest risk plants.
HTA policy manager Gary Scroby said: "It's a positive step trying to protect us from these tree health issues.
"With plane and sweet chestnut disease is clearly on the continent and there's a mechanism in place now that comes into affect next week.
"It applies to nurseries and people with plant passport authorities but doesn't concern contractors, garden designers and Joe Soap ordering trees through the internet because Defra can't control that. There are large holes in UK biosecurity from people not visible in terms of the trade, the same as ash. There are loopholes out there. We've alerted all our members to the new arrangements but not all nurseries are HTA members and it's not just nurseries that are importing trees.
"The plane disease is not in the UK yet but no-on wants to see London planes decimated. They are having lots of problems with the disease in Paris so this is a sensible precaution, though it only goes so far.
"With sweet chestnut there have already been one or tow outbreak of the disease.
With pine, it's not here yet. The measures are similar to those introduced for plane and sweet chestnut at the start of the year that there could be an issue in the future. It lets Defra have a better track on what is coming in and if there's a problem they can trace it forward better. But it doesn't improve biosecurity one jot. So with pine, it's just adding to pre-notification arrangements Defra introduced in January."