Press release

Environment Secretary welcomes taskforce report into tree and plant health

A new report on combating tree and plant pests and diseases has been given strong backing from Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

Speaking during a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show today, 20 May, Mr Paterson called on everyone to get involved in the battle to protect trees and plants.

This year the Chelsea Flower Show is hosting the “Stop the Spread” show garden which was part funded by Defra and the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera). The garden has been designed to show the importance of taking action now to tackle damaging plant pests and diseases.

The garden, created by award winning designer Jo Thompson, contrasts a healthy natural environment with a symbolic avenue of lifeless trees as a demonstration of what could happen if tree and plant diseases were left unchecked.

The garden’s appearance at the Chelsea Flower Show coincides with the publication of the independent taskforce report on tree health and plant biosecurity, which has made a number of recommendations on how the UK can fight tree and plant pests and diseases. The Taskforce was set up by Owen Paterson as a result of the discovery of Chalara fraxinea in the UK last year, to consider and address the current and possible future threats to tree health.

Commenting on the report during his visit to the Fera garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said:

This garden shows us what the worst case scenario could be if diseases were left to take hold of our trees. We’re not going to allow that to happen and today’s report will help us in the fight against pests and diseases in the future.

We are already working on implementing a plant health risk register and are putting plans in place to predict and control the spread of tree diseases.

Everyone’s got a role to play in this. I’m going to hold a summit with all the main people, groups and businesses who have an interest in our trees. We’re going to work together to make sure we protect our woodlands.

I am also taking action to protect our sweet chestnut trees by going for an import ban from areas where sweet chestnut blight is a problem.

Defra has written to the European Commission to ask them to take urgent action to ensure that only chestnut trees from disease-free areas can come into the UK. In the meantime a six week consultation is being launched this week on banning the import of sweet chestnut trees before the next planting season starts.

The Taskforce is comprised of academics whose specialism is plant health, chaired by Professor Chris Gilligan of the University of Cambridge.

The Taskforce’s recommendations are that the Government should:

  • 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.

Mr Paterson announced today that work would begin right away on the recommendations around developing a plant health risk register and implementing procedures to predict, monitor, and control pests and diseases. The rest of the recommendations will be examined and responded to later in the summer.

Professor Ian Boyd, Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said:

It is crucial that Defra’s work on tree and plant health is underpinned by the best science. That’s why I brought together this group of scientists to give us their ideas and advice. Now we’re going to examine their recommendations, working with key groups to work out how to improve our biosecurity.

The Fera “Stop the Spread” show garden underlines the message that only by working together can the range of tree and plant pests and diseases be prevented from impacting on green spaces.

Mr Paterson added:

I hope that this hard-hitting garden really gets our vital message across to gardeners and businesses alike. Whether you’re a company importing plants on a commercial basis or someone bringing back a cutting from abroad, a pest can travel as an unwelcome stowaway and have a potentially devastating effect.

Sponsors of the “Stop the Spread” show garden include Defra, Forestry Commission, National Trust, Welsh Government, Scottish Government, Woodland Trust, Horticultural Trades Association and Timber Packaging and Pallet Confederation.

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