Millions of trees could be lost to disease in the UK in the next few years unless urgent action is taken, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman warned today.
Mrs Spelman was speaking as she launched a new Government drive to combat the exotic pests and diseases threatening the health of trees in the UK.
People trying to smuggle potentially-infected plants and cuttings into the UK will face more robust enforcement, and the Government is putting £7 million into research on combating new or exotic tree and plant pathogens.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:
“If we don’t act now we could end up in a similar situation to the 1970s, when more than 30 million trees in the UK died due to Dutch elm disease. There are new diseases and new threats now, and we need to do everything we can to protect our precious plants, trees and habitats. With the expansion of global trade, especially in live plants, the risk that exotic diseases and pests will be accidentally introduced here grows all the time.
“Today’s action plan dedicates £7 million to finding ways of combating exotic diseases and pests as well as introducing stricter controls on plants and cuttings being brought across the UK’s borders.”
The Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan, a joint initiative with the Forestry Commission, sets out how to tackle serious tree and plant pests and diseases. It contains a range of measures to combat this threat to our forests, woodlands and urban trees, including plans to better enforce against those bringing flora into the UK as well as funding a rigorous programme of research into protecting the UK’s plants and trees against foreign or previously unknown diseases.
Welcoming the announcement, Pam Warhurst, Forestry Commission Chair, said:
“There are few more urgent issues that we in the forestry sector need to focus our attention on, so I’m delighted that this Action Plan has been launched to enable us to get on and do what needs to be done.
“We have worked closely with Defra, Fera, the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, the forestry and horticultural sectors and non-government organisations to develop this Action Plan to ensure we’re taking an integrated approach to tackling tree pests and diseases across the country. We look forward to continuing and developing this collaboration as we enter the implementation phase.
“It’s important that we’re prepared for new threats, too, so we particularly welcome the £7 million extra funding for research into tree health over the next three years.”
It also brings together a range of dedicated organisations - from the Forestry Commission and Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) to key figures from the forestry and horticultural sectors - to draw up the first integrated strategy dedicated to protecting our natural habitats from destruction.
The text of the Action Plan for Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity is available at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/food-farm/crops/tree-health/.
Further information about the main pest and disease threats to Britain’s trees, forests and woodland plants is available at:
The Tree Health & Plant Biosecurity Action Plan brings together all sectors concerned with the management of woods and forests. One of the actions in the plan is to draft an integrated, cross-sectoral strategy for protecting all of our woods, ecosystems, gardens and crops from new pests and diseases. In the meantime the Forestry Commission is being guided by its Interim Tree Health Biosecurity Strategy for protecting woods and forests. This interim strategy will be reviewed in the light of the outcomes of the Action Plan and the current review of the European Union’s Plant Health regime. The UK is fully engaged in the EU review.
The Action Plan focuses on four key areas of activity to combat the threat against our trees - import controls; practical actions; research; and better communications and public engagement.