Policy

Sustaining and enhancing trees, forests and woodland

Supporting detail:

Tree and plant health

To deal with the increasing threat from tree and plant pests and pathogens the Tree and Plant Health Biosecurity Expert Taskforce, was set up in 2012 to review and advise on our strategic approach to tree and plant health.

The taskforce published their final report on 20 May 2013.

Ministers accepted all the recommendations in the taskforce report in the response set out in a Written Ministerial Statement issued on 12 December 2013.

Chalara ash dieback

Ash tree dieback is caused by the Chalara fraxinea fungus. It has already affected a high proportion of ash trees in Northern Europe. It was discovered for the first time in Great Britain in a nursery in Buckinghamshire in February 2012. In October 2012, it was also found in the wider environment in woodland in Norfolk.

The scientific advice is that we can’t stop Chalara, but we can focus on slowing the rate of its spread. Our updated Chalara management plan (March 2013):

  • provides an update on what government and others have done in response to the disease
  • sets out what we’ll do next now that our understanding of Chalara, and the costs and benefits of action has developed further
  • outlines further work to develop our understanding of the disease

This updates the interim control plan (December 2012).

Further information

We’ll publish further evidence as we continue to improve our understanding of Chalara, how it spreads, and how spread might be slowed and damage reduced. This research forms part of the overarching tree health and plant biosecurity evidence plan.

Forest Research (the research agency of the Forestry Commission) has also published a project in conjunction with many collaborating land-owners and nurseries to identify those few ash trees which might be resistant to Ash Die Back:

Protecting wider plant health

We use legislation to control and restrict the import and movement of plants and other material affected by plant pests, to prevent the introduction and spread of harmful organisms.

The measures we take are based on scientific assessment of the risks and include:

  • import and inland inspections of planting material and certain types of plant produce
  • measures to eradicate or contain any outbreaks of harmful pests which occur
  • surveys and publicity to increase the chance that disease outbreaks are detected early
  • certification measures to ensure a supply of disease-free planting material – eg all seed potatoes marketed in the UK are certified

We’re working to minimise the risk of importing other plant pests and pathogens by:

  • strengthening import control activities and protocols
  • influencing the review of the EU plant health regime
  • facilitating international collaboration

The UK Plant Health Risk Register records and rates risks to crops, trees, gardens and ecosystems from plant pests and pathogens.

Funding tree and plant health research

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has allocated £8 million for new research into tree health over four years from 2012 to 2013. New research will include a programme of more applied research as well more strategic work under the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative. The Forestry Commission has also increased investment in tree health research from its existing forestry research resources by 30% over the same period.

A summary of Defra, and other, research commissioned up to April 2013 is available.

With the Forestry Commission, we’re carrying out a £23 million, 5-year programme against two major Phytophthora diseases: P. ramorum and P. kernoviae. This programme will be completed in 2014, and has recently been the subject of a technical review (2013).

Who we’re working with

The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) implements the plant health regulations in England (and Wales on behalf of the Welsh Assembly Government). The Scottish Government is responsible for implementation in Scotland. Separate but similar arrangements apply in Northern Ireland.

Fera, together with the devolved administrations and the Forestry Commission, forms the UK Plant Health Service. This works with the EC and its member states to agree appropriate plant health rules for Europe and co-ordinate their implementation. A range of services are available to help growers, traders and the general public meet their obligations under these plant health rules.

Work under the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan

Under the Tree health and plant biosecurity action plan, Fera leads on communication with the public and professional stakeholders, to make them more aware of tree health and broader plant biosecurity threats, and how they can help.

Defra is using and commissioning scientific research and evidence to minimise risks of new pests and pathogens entering the UK (see section above on ‘Funding Tree and Plant Biosecurity Research). The Forestry Commission is:

  • taking account of the socio-economic benefits of healthy plants and trees
  • understanding and adopting biosecurity measures
  • improving their surveillance strategy by giving stakeholders better opportunities to contribute information and take action.

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