Press release

Action to protect our iconic trees from disease

This is the latest measure to protect native trees from the pests and diseases which can be brought into the UK from other parts of the EU.

Tighter controls on the import of native species of trees have been announced today by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson as the latest action to guard against tree pests and diseases.

The new regulations to track the import of oak, ash, sweet chestnut and plane trees from countries within the EU come into force tomorrow. This will allow plant health inspectors to target their inspections and to track saplings if there are any suspicions that they carry a pest or disease.

Businesses that import tree plants, and the people who purchase the plants, will have additional confidence that any pests or diseases will be detected early on.

Mr Paterson said:

We need to ensure we have a healthy, thriving stock of our native trees and these controls will significantly help us to prevent pests and diseases from getting established in the first place.  We have learnt from ash dieback how important it is to be able to act quickly to identify where infected trees may be.

I want to make sure we can quickly trace and destroy diseased trees regardless of where they come from as part of our effort to better protect our forests and woodlands.

The controls mean that, just as with trees entering from outside the EU, importers will need to tell the UK’s plant health authorities the species, where they are from and where they are going.  This will allow inspectors to judge the level of risk and whether testing is needed. At the moment the authorities do not know what trees are coming in from EU because of the rules over the single market.

Chief Plant Health Officer Martin Ward said:

This will also improve our evidence base on the amount of imports of these trees and our understanding of the levels of risk involved, with a view to preventing future threats to our trees from pests and diseases.

This is the latest measure to protect native trees from the pests and diseases which can be brought into the UK from other parts of the EU and comes ahead of the Plant Health Task Force report expected in the spring. The Task Force, convened by Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser Ian Boyd and chaired by Professor Chris Gilligan, has already recommended in its interim report that a risk register is developed for tree health and that an expert system is set up to provide quick intelligence on tree and plant health biosecurity.

The introduction of the notification scheme follows an informal consultation with key stakeholder groups such as Horticultural Trade Association and NFU and follows a voluntary notification system.  It imposes minimum additional obligation which equates from an estimated one hour per year for a small business to between five and eight hours per year for a large tree importer.

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