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NEWS RELEASE No: 1545917 MAY 2012

Film launch to tackle disease threat to our countryside

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Signs warning of Phytophthora ramorum at entrance to Cann Woods

Two films have been launched which are aimed at letting people know how they can help prevent the spread of devastating plant diseases. One of these diseases has resulted in the premature felling of more than 3000 hectares (7500 acres) of larch trees across the UK over the past three years.

The diseases, caused by fungus-like organisms called Phytophthora, are a serious threat to the nation’s trees and shrubs, and can be inadvertently spread by countryside users, gardeners and tree and plant industry professionals.

The two films were launched last night at the Institute of Chartered Foresters’ (ICF) annual national conference as part of a new, cross-industry response to this threat. More than 20 organisations from the public sector, including the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments, together with trade associations and charities, helped to make them.

Speaking at the conference, Lord Taylor, Defra Minister for Plant Health, said,

“I’m delighted that, as part of the implementation of the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan, we’re launching at this event our new awareness films to tackle the threat from Phytophthora organisms.

“It is very significant that these films have been produced by such a wide consortium of people from within and outside Government, because we all have a role to play in protecting our treasured gardens, woodlands and countryside from the increasing threat from pests and diseases."

The two fungus-like Phytophthora organisms posing the greatest threats are Phytophthora ramorum and Phytophthora kernoviae. These organisms mostly affect shrubs such as rhododendron, viburnum and camellia, and trees such as larch and beech. The diseases they cause have been found in plant nurseries, garden centres, parks and historic gardens as well as commercial forestry plantations and woodland environments. Bilberry on heathland and in woodland has also been affected, and other heathland plants are known to be susceptible.

The shorter of the two films was produced specifically to engage people who have little previous knowledge of plant diseases, but who are interested in the countryside. The longer film contains more-detailed information and is aimed at professionals who need to know about the diseases because they are active within environments that can be infected by them.

Both films are being uploaded to YouTube and can be accessed from the Forestry Commission website at and the Plant Health pages of the Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera) website, and will be available from the websites of other partners who supported their production.

Notes to Editor:

  1. The films are part of the Defra/Forestry Commission Tree Health & Plant Biosecurity Action Plan and the Defra Phytophthora Disease Management Programme. The Action Plan brings together all sectors concerned with the management of woods and forests. It is focusing on four key areas of activity to combat the pest and diseases threats to the UK's trees: import controls; practical actions; research; and communications and public engagement.
  2. The Action Plan sets out an agenda for actions to:
    • minimise the risk of new threats from entering the UK;
    • enable us to understand more about the threats we face;
    • work with society to make it more aware of threats and pathways;
    • identify positive steps which professionals and other stakeholders can take to improve the resilience of trees, woods and forests; and
    • ensure an effective evidence base is developed and maintained to inform decisions.
  3. The organisations involved in making the films include: Fera, Forestry Commission, Scottish Government, Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales, National Trust, Woodland Trust, English Heritage, Institute of Chartered Foresters, Brecon Beacon National Park Authority, Osberton Nurseries, Country Land & Business Association,
    Confederation of Forest Industries (ConFor), National Farmers’ Union, Horticultural Trades Association, Tree Council, Royal Horticultural Society, and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  4. Ramorum disease, caused by P. ramorum infection, is especially damaging to larch trees, killing them within a year of symptoms becoming visible. P. ramorum spore production is particularly prolific on larch trees, significantly increasing the risk of disease spread over a wide area, and more than 3 million larch trees in the UK have been felled in a bid to bring the disease under control. Further information isi available at
  5. Further information about Phytophthora and the other main pest and disease threats to Britain’s trees, forests and woodland plants is available at and and
  6. The expansion of global trade, especially the trade in live plants, has increased the risk of accidental introduction of exotic pests and pathogens. The threats they pose can be exacerbated by the effects of a changing climate making it easier for exotic organisms to establish in the UK, which often does not have the predators or other natural inhibitors that keep them in check in their native habitats.
  7. The Forestry Commission is the government department for forestry in Great Britain, and works to improve the lives of people through the many social, economic and environmental benefits that sustainably managed trees, woods and forests can provide.
  8. Fera is an Executive Agency of Defra. Its remit is to provide robust evidence, rigorous analysis and expert professional advice to government, international organisations and the private sector, in order to support and develop a sustainable and secure food chain, a healthy natural environment, and to protect the global community from biological and chemical risks.

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