Plant passports could protect against OPM

The Forestry Commission may push for EU legislation to introduce plant passports to stop the potentially deadly oak processionary moth (OPM) entering the UK.

Moths will emerge in the next few weeks and entomologists are nervously waiting to see if the pests have increased since they hit the headlines last summer. Forestry Commission head of plant health Roddie Burgess said he is looking at data to ensure OPM is listed as a quarantine organism for the UK: “We’re nearing completion of a formal pest risk analysis to determine the risk posed by OPM to the UK’s trees and what measures should be carried out to reduce the likelihood of further arrivals of the moth. A decision on what steps we will recommend to government will be made after we have considered the analysis in depth. “The main option for change would be designation of the UK as a protected zone within the EU. This would mean EU states would be required to issue ‘plant passports’ to consignments of plants of relevant species being exported to the UK certifying that they have been inspected and are free of OPM.” Imports of plants from non-EU states are already required to have phyto-sanitary certificates, which are similar to EU plant passports. Kew plant health officer Sara Redstone said: “The next few weeks are important because the Outbreak Management Team, set up by the Forestry Commission, has an extensive network of people in the London/South East area monitoring pheromone traps which are being used to give an indication of the locations and real extent of the moth. The moth is expected to emerge over the next few weeks. “Monitoring is vital so we can target control measures carefully next spring when the caterpillars emerge from over-wintering eggs. It will also indicate whether it is realistic for us to aim to eradicate this pest — let’s hope that’s the view taken at senior government level or we will all have to adapt to living alongside this pest. “I would suggest that the spring is the real crux. This is when the caterpillar emerges. The first three of its six instars are susceptible to chemical controls. We will need full co-operation — from the public, professionals and government — and adequate resources to target the caterpillar effectively, or this pest will be another unwelcome burden for both the environment and economy. Resources are a big concern. If we are unsuccessful in our efforts to eradicate OPM, the impact on our streets, public gardens and parkland could have serious implications. It is crucial that those of us working in arboriculture and horticulture support the Forestry Commission in co-ordinating the monitoring and control of OPM.”

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