The Royal Forestry Society has welcomed a report from the Expert Taskforce on Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity, and Defra's call to the EU to ban sweet chestnut imports from areas where sweet chestnut blight is prevalent.
The RFS praised a pledge from Defra secretary of state Owen Paterson to start work on the report's recommendations to improve procedures to predict, monitor, and control pests and diseases, improve biosecurity measures and communicate relevant information to woodland owners in a more timely way.
The society calls for all other recommendations in the report to be implemented in full and swiftly.
The Expert Taskforce was set up by the Environment Secretary in the wake of the spread of ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea) in the UK last year to consider and address the current and possible future threats to tree health.
RFS development director Simon Lloyd said: "The Taskforce's recommendations will, if implemented in full and with speed, significantly reduce the risk of a repeat of the experience with Chalara and build confidence that we have learned the lessons from this and other diseases that have arrived in the UK from overseas.
"In addition, the Government's call to the EU to ban imports from areas affected by sweet chestnut blight shows that tree health is now, and not before time, in the forefront of Government thinking. In making the call before the start of the next planting season any ban will help protect our native stocks from the potential spread of another disease, and will, we hope, set a precedent for future disease alerts
"It is encouraging that The Government is putting plant health on the same level of importance as animal disease."
The Taskforce's key recommendations are:
- Develop a UK Plant Health Risk Register;
- Appoint a Chief Plant Health Officer to look after the Plant Health Risk Register;
- Develop and implement procedures to predict, monitor, and control the spread of pests and diseases;
- Review, simplify, and strengthen governance and legislation;
- Improve the use of intelligence from EU/other regions and work to improve the EU regulations concerned with tree health and plant biosecurity;
- Strengthen biosecurity to reduce risks at the border and within the UK;
- Develop a modern, user-friendly system to provide quick and intelligent access to data about tree health and plant biosecurity; and
- Address key skills shortages.