Tree diseases being prioritised for action, Defra says

Defra, together with woodland and forestry bodies, has begun drawing up a list of priority tree and plant pests to take action against, in line with recommendations of the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce delivered in May.

Speaking at a stakeholder meeting last Thursday (11 July) to discuss taking the taskforce's recommendations forward, Defra’s chief plant health officer Martin Ward said: 

"I’ve been sitting down with groups with an interest in tree and plant health to come up with a list of the key pests and diseases which threaten Britain.

"This is the first step in producing the formal risk register which the Taskforce recommended. We now need to continue working together to identify those pest and diseases which we can take action against now."

The candidates include:

  • chestnut blight and plane wilt, for which additional measures are being developed before the next planting season;
  • bronze birch borer, against which the UK is pressing for action at EU level to stop it being introduced to Europe;
  • acute oak decline, where more research has been commissioned to get a better understanding of the causes;
  • camellia flower blight and fruit brown rot, where recent consultations with the industry suggest that regulation is no longer appropriate and should be withdrawn or amended.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson was present to lend his support, saying: "We’ve all got an interest in making sure this happens. The Government is playing its part alongside the excellent work being carried out by woodland groups and the industry to safeguard Britain’s trees and plants."

Other taskforce recommendations recommendations are also being acted upon, Defra has said. These include:

  • introducing tighter controls on the import of oak, ash, plane and sweet chestnut trees
  • allocating £8m for research into diseases that could affect UK trees
  • planting 250,000 ash saplings to monitor for genetic resistance to Chalara fraxinea and commissioned laboratory research into the genetic basis of resistance.

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