Defra has held a ‘Plant Health Stakeholder Summit’ in London on 20 January to develop a plant health strategy and try and combat a repeat of the ash dieback crisis of 2012.
Defra aims to help develop a coordinated approach across the country for dealing with pests and diseases. Representatives from Government, woodland groups, academia and industry, including the HTA, were in attendance.
A tree risk register, published on 20 January, highlights 700 possible threats to Britain’s trees and plants and is due to be published on the Fera website. Phase one is out now but a phase two with additions will launch in spring 2014 at the launch of the Plant Health Strategy.
Environment minister Lord de Mauley said: "Safeguarding the future of our trees and plants is enormously important – on more than one occasion we have seen the dreadful trail of destruction such diseases can leave behind. And it’s not just the environment that suffers, but the economy too.
"It is vital for us to work with those outside of government to get this plant health strategy right and successfully protect our environment from biosecurity threats. The register is an essential step forwards in helping us to identify all potential threats and plan against them."
Defra has also already created a new chief plant health officer post that will lead on the risk register and contingency planning.
Assistant chief plant health officer Richard McIntosh said: "Getting a wide range of input at this stage of the plant biosecurity strategy is invaluable, it is very important that we get this strategy right for everyone working with trees and plants.
"We will be looking at increasing our activity on surveillance and research over the next few years in order to ensure we protect our trees and plants as much as possible and are ready to deal with any threats to them.
"The register will not only identify threats in a timely fashion, it will also help a range of groups, including nurseries and woodland managers, to consider and manage risk effectively."
The risk register was recommended in the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Taskforce Report published in May 2013. The Taskforce was set up by Environment secretary Owen Paterson following the discovery of Chalara fraxinea (ash dieback) in the UK in 2012, to consider and address the current and possible future threats to tree health. It was made up of a group of expert scientists and chaired by Professor Chris Gilligan of Cambridge University.
This report made eight recommendations to improve plant and tree health in the UK - government has accepted all of these recommendations and the strategy will implement the outstanding actions.
The plant biosecurity strategy will now be developed drawing on the thoughts of the attendees of the summit and other stakeholder engagement and is due to be published later in the Spring.