Grower blames late orders for ash crisis

Crowders director calls on Government bodies to order in advance from British nurseries rather than importing ash trees.

Ash dieback: damaging disease - image: J Webber
Ash dieback: damaging disease - image: J Webber

A nursery grower who has lost £200,000 because of ash dieback says Government bodies could end the devastation caused by diseased imports by simply ordering in advance from British nurseries rather than importing.

Crowders managing director Simon Ellis said the Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission and Highways Agency need to advance procure at least two years in advance and to give nurseries long-term agreements.

"At the moment, they buy on the speculative market and nurseries can't grow on that basis," he said. "They need to work with UK nurseries so stock is grown from definitive provenance. Trees need to be sold before they are sown - that's the way to bring stability to the market.

"The Forestry Commission has been one of the biggest importers of ash because of the way they procure stock. They send out a list in October for supply in November to March and that's rubbish. No nursery has 200,000 ash spare."

A commission representative said: "We have always used a variety of tree sources including our own nurseries, UK suppliers and imports. Our operating budget has not affected our decisions on sourcing. Our advance planning means we can mostly source stock from our own nurseries but also have a greater choice of suppliers if there is a shortage or circumstances change.

"In 2012, we approached our foresters in May to try and identify any changes or shortfalls for the 2012-13 planting season from October to April to allow a longer time to source from external suppliers if necessary."

More than five million ash plants have been imported to the UK for forest and landscape planting since 2003, said Defra.

Meanwhile, HTA policy director Gary Scroby said an ash dieback meeting with Defra ministers late last week "will spit out some proposals and start to create hopefully some stability in the market for UK growers and enable ash to be grown in the UK if they want to take that commercial challenge".

Scroby said growers need compensation before Defra can meet its desire for more British-grown ash. He added that it is too early to say whether Defra will drop controversial export/import of ash, where plants are grown on overseas before re-importation and tagging as British.

He added: "Defra is working on longer-term issues about plant health and might try and tighten it but it will need to be done at EU level so won't be soon. It might be in the EU plant health review."

Ash dieback defence - Homegrown question

The Forestry Commission recommended in July 2011 that ash trees should only be imported from areas free of ash dieback, but an import ban was only imposed in October 2012. At least 136 of the 291 infected sites now identified in the UK resulted from imported trees.

At an Associate Parliamentary British Fruit Group meeting last week, Defra minister Lord de Mauley said: "There has been a lot of planting of ash as part of the Rural Development Programme for England and a lot of those have been imported.

"The structure of the scheme entails this as the farmer has to put the trees in quickly. We grow about 50 per cent of our own ash - why not more?"


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