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    Tree health a priority for Defra

    NewsTuesday 16 July 2013
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    Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, has said that we should work together in order to defend British trees and plants from pests and diseases. 
     
    He made this statement at a recent meeting of woodland organisations and forestry groups, who were discussing a report that was carried out by the independent Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce. 
     
    Defra’s Chief Plant Health Officer, Martin Ward and the Chair of the Taskforce, Professor Chris Gilligan, were also at the event. Attendees were able to hear from this pair who spoke about the Taskforce’s recommendations and how they might be implemented practically. 
     
    Owen Paterson said: “It is clear that it is only by working together that we can do our best to protect our plants and trees.
     
    “We’ve all got an interest in making sure this happens. Industries which rely on our woodland are worth £4.2billion to the economy and countless people enjoy walking, riding, cycling or playing in our forests.
     
    “The Government is playing its part alongside the excellent work being carried out by woodland groups and the industry to safeguard Britain’s trees and plants now and for future generations.”
     
    Martin Ward updated the attendees on the initial stages of the work on a formal risk register, which is one of the recommendations that was made by the Taskforce. A series of meetings with expert groups and the Taskforce led to the identification of key pests and diseases, and this will form the basis of the risk register. 
     
    Mr Ward said: “I’ve been sitting down with groups with an interest in tree and plant health to come up with a list of the key pests and diseases which threaten Britain.
     
    “This is the first step in producing the formal risk register which the Taskforce recommended. We now need to continue working together to identify those pest and diseases which we can take action against now.”
     
    The current risk register identifies a range of pest and diseases, those that are present, those that could threaten the UK in a shorter timescale and those which are not an immediate threat but which could potentially have a severe impact. Some of the pests that are being studied include:
     
    • Chestnut blight and plane wilt, for which additional measures are being developed before the next planting season;
    • Bbronze birch borer, against which the UK is pressing for action at EU level to stop it being introduced to Europe;
    • Acute oak decline, where more research has been commissioned to get a better understanding of the causes; and
    • Camellia flower blight and fruit brown rot, where recent consultations with the industry suggest that regulation is no longer appropriate and should be withdrawn or amended to reflect current distribution of those diseases.
     
    Regular updating of the risk register and associated risk assessments will continue to spot pests and diseases against which measures needs to be adapted to take account of new information.
     
    Defra has made tree and plant health one of its top priorities and is continuing to tackle tree pests and diseases, including Chalara. To tackle tree disease the Government has already:
     
    • Introduced tighter controls on the import of oak, ash, plane and sweet chestnut trees;
    • Allocated £8m for research into diseases that could affect our trees; and
    • Planted 250,000 ash saplings to monitor for genetic resistance to Chalara and commissioned research to investigate genetic resistance in a laboratory setting.
    Picture: Denise Chan
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