The Government has launched a new strategy to tackle the nationwide spread of Ash dieback disease.
The Chalara Control Plan sets out the Government’s objectives for tackling the disease and outlines what further action it will take over the next few months.
The plan also re-affirms the Government‘s commitment to focus its efforts on reducing the rate of spread and developing resistance to the disease in the native UK ash tree population.
The strategy will also encourage citizen, landowner and industry engagement and action in tackling the problem and help building resilience in the UK woodland and associated industries.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “We need to radically rethink how we deal with the threats to our trees. That’s why I asked Defra’s chief scientist to lead a panel of experts to identify what needs to be done to tackle the growing problem of tree diseases.
“While the science tells us it won’t be possible to eradicate this disease, we mustn’t give up on British ash.
“The plan I have set out today shows our determination to slow the spread and minimise the impact of Chalara.
“It will also give us time to find those trees with genetic resistance to the disease and to restructure our woodlands to make them more resilient.”
The Government has already introduced a number of control measures to reduce the speed of spread. A ban on import of ash trees and movement of trees around the country will remain in place.
Landowners and conservation organisations will continue to work with government agencies to check sites across the UK for signs of infected trees.
The Control Plan outlines some additional actions including:
* Researching spore production at infected sites;
* Working closely with other European countries that have been affected by Chalara to share data and experience on resistance to the disease;
* Funding a study to accelerate the development of the ObservaTREE, a tree health early warning system using volunteer groups; and
* Working with the horticulture and nursery sectors on long-term resilience to the impact of Chalara and other plant health threats.
An independent Task Force on Tree and Plant Health has also published its interim recommendations today after it was set up by Professor Ian Boyd, Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser, to assess the current disease threats to the UK.
Owen Paterson added: “The Task Force’s interim recommendations are a robust answer to my call for radical ideas on how to protect Britain from tree and plant diseases. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the final report early next year.”
The Task Force’s interim recommendations are that the Government should:
* Develop a prioritised UK Risk Register for tree health and plant biosecurity;
* Strengthen biosecurity to reduce risks at the border and within the UK;
* ppoint a Chief Plant Health Officer to own the UK Risk Register and provide strategic and tactical leadership for managing those risks;
* Review, simplify and strengthen governance and legislation;
* Maximise the use of epidemiological intelligence from EU/other regions and work to improve the EU regulations concerned with tree and plant biosecurity;
* Develop and implement procedures for preparedness and contingency planning to predict, monitor and control the spread of disease;
* Develop a modern, user-friendly, expert system to provide quick and intelligent access to data about tree health and plant biosecurity;
* Identify and address key skills shortages.
Welcoming the Government's response, Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said: “We are encouraged by the Government’s initial plans to tackle ash dieback. Nevertheless, this is only a partial step towards tackling the plethora of new pests and diseases being imported into the UK. We need a stronger approach to prevent these threats from arriving in the first place.
“Now is not the time to give up the fight on ash dieback, and there is still a role for sensitively removing newly-planted infected trees where this helps halt the spread and protect mature woodland. Ash woodlands are important for nature, and we will be working to ensure the next version of this plan seeks to both protect and enhance woodland wildlife. “