What role will the Arboricultural Association's new guidance note have in strengthening biosecurity?

Image: Emma Hall
Image: Emma Hall

A timely new Arboricultural Association guidance note, Application of Biosecurity in Arboriculture, aims to raise awareness of biosecurity across tree care and management.

The association’s chief executive Stewart Wardrop said at the document’s launch in the Houses of Parliament last week: "The Arboricultural Association is very proud of this and we will do everything we can to promote it in our own and allied industries."

Running to 50 pages, its sections are marked for relevance to seven occupations — practical tree workers, planting contractors, advisers, tree population managers, suppliers of trees and equipment, policy implementers and procurers of tree services. It is available free from the Arboricultural Association website, from where it has already been downloaded more than 500 times.

The report has been more than three years in the making, "during which [the importance of] biosecurity has grown", report co-author Simon Cox told parliamentary and industry figures.

"It’s written by the industry, for anyone in the industry. So if you’re putting a procurement contract together, it will give you a template as well as advice on building a relationship with the nursery — things no one has put down in print before."

Cox, along with Fund4Trees research fundraiser Russell Ball, tree planting specialist Nature First director Karl Stuckey and environmental consultant Peter Wharton, cycled the nearly 200km from the Arboricultural Association’s Gloucestershire headquarters to Westminster to deliver the document.

Saluting their efforts, association chair Jaime Bray said: "The association places biosecurity at the forefront of society’s trees. With this [document] we can reduce the risk to them while also supporting UK nurseries. Compliance is now standard for Arboricultural Association approved contractors. We want Government to be strong on this — do you want the loss of London planes on your watch?"

UK chief plant health officer Nicola Spence responded by saying: "We welcome this document as a step forward, and welcome the leadership of the AA in bringing together their membership and others to improve biosecurity."

The document’s arrival coincides with the announcement of the new £18m Government-backed bacterial plant diseases programme, which she described as "really good news", and follows on from the Government’s tree health resilience strategy launched earlier this year in the wake of the 25-year environment plan.

Quick off the mark

"We were keen to be quick off the mark on this," said Spence. "One of our key activities is how to predict how what’s out there might get in, because it’s much more cost-effective to stop it before that happens.

"We have 1,024 pests on our register, and that’s growing by five-to-10 a month. Because we prioritise them, we know what to expect and how to react. Forty-to-50 of them are in the medium- to high-risk category. That’s where we focus our attention."

Defra is also promoting biosecurity messages with the public, such as its "Don’t Risk It" campaign this summer to discourage people from bringing in plant material from abroad. "That’s the beginning of some much stronger messaging, which the AA can play a part in," she added.

Meanwhile, the cross-industry Plant Health Alliance "is progressing a biosecurity standard, a draft of which has been advanced and will be signed off in January", said Spence. "Anyone importing plants will be accredited against it, and it will be a requirement for Government procurement. This new AA document will fit well with it."

With the Action Oak partnership, launched at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, "we have already raised significant funding for research at Kew and the universities", she added. "We are committed to tackling the threats before they become serious. Plant health is a high priority in Government as it is in industry."

Veteran parliamentarian and former Arboricultural Association president Michael Lord, Baron Framlingham, told the gathering: "If trees can be grown here, they should be. People will have to be aware of the dangers in a way that they aren’t now. I remember the complacency when Dutch elm disease arrived."

Dieback, but not doom

Newly published work led by Professor Richard Buggs of Kew Gardens and Queen Mary University suggests that while ash dieback is a grave threat to Europe’s ash populations, it does not annihilate them.

The meta-analysis found that in studies of plantations established before the arrival of the epidemic, the maximum recorded mortality was around 85%. In woodlands with exposure to ADB of between four and 20 years, this maximum was around 70%, while among naturally regenerated saplings the figure was 82%.

chief plant health officer Nicola Spence commented: "This shows the picture is much more positive than people thought."

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