Phytophthora cash boost sees mixed reception

Horticulture industry reactions to £25m of Defra money going to Phytophthora ramorum and P. kernoviae eradication and research have been mixed.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has called on the Scottish Government, which carried out a similar consultation to Defra, to follow Westminster's example.

NTS director of conservation services and projects Andrew Bachell said: "We're increasingly concerned that the Scottish Government is being too slow to act to help eradicate this disease.

"Phytophthora is now in several of the trust's west-coast properties and the time to act is now. This disease could have a very serious impact on Scotland's gardens and natural heritage, and it could easily undermine the benefits of tourism and access.

"There needs to be a consistent approach across the UK as this disease knows no boundaries."

The HTA is concerned that efforts to manage the disease in Britain "will be undermined" without greater controls in Europe.

HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe said: "It's important that disease-control measures in the UK are not undermined by activity elsewhere in Europe and further afield. We will be stressing to Defra the need for pan-EU action if we are to be successful in reducing inoculum levels in the wider environment."

He added: "It is also important that these funds are well targeted at the most effective areas and aren't used to further police an already supportive nursery sector."

Grower John Middleton added: "If Defra was serious in protecting Britain's environment, a ban on imports of hardy nursery stock and the pests and diseases they bring would be the most cost-effective way of proceeding for the future."

Defra met with stakeholders including the HTA, National Trust and councils last Thursday to brainstorm where the money should be spent. Thirty positions, including a Phytophthora programme manager, will be created at the new Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA), which will begin operating on 1 April and is charged with managing the five-year programme.

HTA policy adviser David Brown said: "It is very useful to be able to influence thinking in the run-up to the new programme starting. There are no preconceived ideas about how the money will be spent and until the team is in place at FERA, no final decisions will be made."

But Brown said it looks as though initial research will look at the heathland and infection of Vaccinium, and best-practice protocols will be drawn up for nurseries, which the HTA will help to compile.


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