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Tree Health & Plant Biosecurity Action Plan - Questions and Answers

1. What does the Action Plan aim to achieve?

We have developed this plan to:

  • achieve a reduction in damage to Britain’s trees and woodland from pests and pathogens

  • better inform stakeholders including landowners, woodland managers, the horticulture sector, academics and the public about tree diseases and how they can help prevent their introduction and spread

  • reduce the number of incidences where infected plants are found in nurseries and gardens, reducing the need for destruction of plants and loss of income and, over time, leading to fewer and shorter, and therefore less costly, inspection visits to businesses

  • ensure that the right evidence is commissioned and used effectively to underpin sound management practices and minimise new threats

  • achieve enhanced capability in research and development, including detection, diagnosis and pest control

2. Why is it necessary?

Plant health is a growing concern in Britain. During the past decade, at least 12 significant tree pests and diseases have been detected here for the first time, or have become more damaging. Some of them affect a range of plants, not just trees. Other potentially very damaging pests are expanding their ranges closer to Britain, making it imperative that our biosecurity borders are as secure as possible.
The Secretary of State therefore asked Defra and the Forestry Commission, with input from the wider land management and scientific communities, to further develop our strategic approach to existing and emerging pests and diseases that affect forest plants, drawing on experience at home and abroad. Key to this is the development of a coherent, joined-up plant health strategy.

3. Why is the problem of plant pests and diseases getting worse in Britain?

The main reason is the growth in international trade, and the trade in live plants in particular. This has established new pathways for accidental entry of pests and diseases into Britain, for example, in potting material, or as eggs laid in or on plants before they are exported. In some cases climate change can increase the threat by making Britain’s climate more hospitable to exotic pests and diseases. For example, our recent warm, wet summers have created ideal breeding conditions for fungal and bacterial pathogens.

4. Does this mean that our border controls are not strict enough?

The UK’s plant health border controls are based on the European Union’s plant health legislation, which aims to provide proportionate control to minimise risk, while not placing overly onerous burdens on international trade. The European Commission has introduced a number of emergency measures to prevent emerging threats entering the EU and moving between Member States. However, it is recognised that the EU’s current plant health regime needs strengthening to meet the challenges of the 21st-century global trading environment, and it is being reviewed. The UK is taking a leading role in the review process.

5. How can you be sure that the Action Plan will be aligned with the EU plant health regime after the review of the latter has been completed? Shouldn’t you wait until after the Review has been completed?

The Action Plan focuses on the practical operational, research and communications measures that can be taken to strengthen our protection under any likely legislative regime. The actions which it proposes are therefore unlikely to cut across anything that emerges from the EU review. However, the Action Plan itself, and our ultimate Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Strategy, will also be subject to periodic review to ensure they remain fit for purpose.

6. What about the Forestry Commission’s Interim Tree Health Biosecurity Strategy – what is its status now?

The Interim Tree Health Biosecurity Strategy is called an interim strategy because it provides necessary guidance for our current activities until the review of the EU Plant Health regime is known. It will then be reviewed to take account of changes to the EU regime and relevant outcomes from the Action Plan process.

7. Who drew up the Action Plan?

It was drafted by a partnership of organisations led by the Forestry Commission and Defra (the Department for Food, Environment & Rural Affairs). It included Fera (the Food & Environment Research Agency), the Scottish and Welsh Governments, environmental non-government organisations (NGOs), and the forestry and horticultural industries.

8. Why is industry being involved?

Industries such as those involved in timber-growing, timber haulage, forestry contracting and wood processing all have key roles and a vital interest in ensuring a sustainable future for our trees, woods and forests, including their protection from pests and diseases. It was therefore essential that they contributed to development of the plan, and we are grateful for the time and effort they and other stakeholders across the forestry and research sectors have given to help us develop it. We value their input, and we will need to continue to work in partnership with them to implement the actions.

9. How will the Action Plan be implemented, and by whom?

The Action Plan centres around four main workstreams:

  • protecting the UK – import controls

  • practical actions

  • public and stakeholder engagement

  • research opportunities and evidence priorities

There are clear links between all of the workstreams to ensure the action plan can be delivered in a coherent way. The Forestry Commission is leading on the practical actions, and the others are being led by Fera and Defra.

10. How can people and organisations with an interest in biosecurity get involved in implementation of the Plan?

This is a plan for Britain’s woodland plants, whether they are in forests or in our towns and cities. It sets out a number of actions that we believe are essential for ensuring their continued health. This requires everyone who has an interest in achieving this to get engaged. Each of the workstream steering groups will be seeking commitments from organisations or individuals to help them carry out their actions. This will range from actively taking responsibility for individual actions to supporting citizen science by providing information about tree health issues. More detail will be provided once the workstream steering groups are up and running.

11. How are you going to fund this work? Does any new money come with the Action Plan?

Some of the work will form part of the regular programmes of work undertaken from existing budgets by the departments and agencies involved. The Forestry Commission intends to increase research spending on tree health by 31 per cent between 2011-12 and 2014-15. In addition, when she launched the Action Plan, the Secretary of State also announced an extra £6.5 million over three years for tree health research. And, through the implementation of the Action Plan, the Forestry Commission and Defra are exploring other funding mechanisms through new partnerships and ways of making best use of existing evidence.
The Forestry Commission and Fera are also partway through implementing a £23.5 million, five-year programme against two damaging Phytophthora pathogens: P. ramorum and P. kernoviae.

12. Why wasn’t forest ownership considered in the Action Plan?

The focus of this Action Plan is on plant health, and woodland owners of all types have an interest in and responsibility for protecting woodland. Plant pests do not respect ownership boundaries. Therefore the important thing is not who owns the woodland, but that owners of all types work together to protect trees and woodland - and the other plants and habitats that can also be affected by tree pests and diseases. That’s why we worked with the full range of stakeholders to develop the Action Plan, and we will need to continue to work together to implement the actions.

13. Why was the Action Plan launched before the Independent Panel on forestry in England reports?

The two exercises are independent of each other. The focus of the Action Plan is on plant health, which is not included in the Panel’s remit. In addition, the Action Plan applies to the whole of Great Britain, while the Independent Panel’s remit applies only to England. However, we have kept the Panel informed about how the work is developing, and some of the Panel members contributed to its development, through the workshops, in their professional capacities.

More information on tree pests and diseases

Last updated: 4th December 2014