MPs attack short-term policy on tree pests and diseases

The Government has been taking "a short-term fire-fighting approach" to tree pests and diseases and needs to take a more strategic, preventative, MPs have claimed in a new report.

The Commons Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee's Tree Health & Plant Biosecurity was published earlier this month in response to the outbreak of ash dieback disease.

The report called for "ring-fenced funding for long-term research and development work that focuses on preparation for future plant-health threats" and suggested researching particular risk areas such soil, untreated wood and insect pests.

It put the annual cost of tree disease excluding ash dieback at £172m and called on Defra to produce a figure, so far lacking, for the cost of controlling ash dieback also.

It contrasted this sum with the £5.7m being spent in the current financial year by Defra and the Forestry Commission on tree-health research that is set to slip to £5.4m next year.

Meanwhile, several specialist organisations that submitted evidence to the report highlighted the lack of new plant pathologists being brought in to replace current experts approaching retirement. They blamed declining educational and employment opportunities in the field.

Committee chair Anne McIntosh said: "The Government must act with urgency to address the skills gap that we currently face. We must strengthen our own capability to predict, monitor, control and mitigate the impact of pests and diseases on plants here in the UK."

She added: "Disease risks are rising significantly but funding for research in this area has not kept pace."


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