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6 DECEMBER 2012 NEWS RELEASE No: 15767

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Government sets out strategy to tackle Chalara dieback of ash

Issued jointly with Defra

A new strategy to tackle Chalara dieback of ash trees was published today by Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary in the United Kingdom Government, alongside the Tree and Plant Health Task Force’s interim report.

The Chalara Control Plan sets out the Government’s objectives for tackling the disease, and outlines the further action to be taken over the next few months. The plan also re-affirms the Government‘s commitment to focus its efforts on:

 

  • reducing the rate of spread;
  • developing resistance to the disease in the native UK ash tree population;
  • encouraging citizen, landowner and industry engagement and action in tackling the problem; and
  • building resilience in the UK woodland and associated industries.

Mr 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, and restrictions on imports of ash trees and their movement around Great Britain 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 which have been affected by Chalara to share data and experience on resistance to the disease;
  • funding a study to accelerate the development of 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 also published its recommendations today after it was set up by the Government to assess the current disease threats to the UK. Mr 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;
  • appoint 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; and
  • identify and address key skills shortages.

Welcoming the Task Force’s report, Professor Ian Boyd, Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said:

“I’d like to thank the Task Force for its work so far. The report brings forward some interesting ideas and advice from experts that we will consider.

“It’s important to listen to the views of others and bring together the best ideas and advice from experts. We need the most up-to-date and robust evidence to support our decisions, and the Task Force will help us do just that.”

The Chalara Control Plan and the Task Force report are available from the Defra website.

The Forestry Commission today also published new advice to landowners and woodland managers to help them manage Ash trees to minimise the impact of Chalara dieback.

Further information about Chalara dieback is available on the Forestry Commission website at www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara.

Notes to editor:

  1. Chalara dieback of ash is caused by the Chalara fraxinea fungus. The disease was first observed as a new form of ash dieback in Poland in 1992, and has since spread to ash trees in many European countries. It was first confirmed in the UK in ash plants in a nursery in England in February 2012, and has since been confirmed in a range of locations in all four countries of the UK.
  2. Information on other pests and diseases which pose a threat to Britain's trees is available at www.forestry.gov.uk/pestsanddiseases .

Media enquiries: Laura Hunter, Defra, 020 7238 5334

e-mail: charlton.clark@forestry.gsi.gov.uk