Industry surveillance key on pest and disease risk

Stopping novel pests and diseases entering the UK "is still our best chance of controlling them", Defra chief plant health officer Professor Nicola Spence told the Arboricultural Association conference.

Oak processionary moth
Oak processionary moth

A new EU-wide plant health regime is currently being negotiated that will become law in 12-18 months' time, she explained. "We want the focus to be on high-risk material from high-risk areas. There is an international standard for wood packaging but most people ignore it."

Since the general election, she added: "Ministers have been doing a lot of thinking about Defra's priorities and the developing of a tree health management plan. We have an overall plant biosecurity strategy that takes a risk-based approach.

"We want to know who is importing what, so we can inspect it. Passporting will also be strengthened, while five-to-10 risks are added to the UK Plant Health Risk Register every month. I hope to launch a register of professional plant health inspectors. But we also need you as an industry to tell us - surveillance is key."

Defra "funds a lot of technology, especially in tree health," she added. "We can get a species diagnosis in 20 minutes at places like ports. We also run helicopter flights, use aerial photography and drones, and have even used sniffer dogs to detect citrus long-horn beetle."


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