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Tree health investment paying dividends

Increased government funding to protect Britain’s trees from exotic pests and diseases has already paid off in the form of a number of interceptions of suspect items in materials imported from abroad.

Thanks to the extra resources, Forestry Commission Plant Health Service inspectors have made three times more interceptions this year than last of evidence of wood packaging that has not met Great Britain’s landing requirements. In three cases there was evidence of live insect activity in the wood.

Evidence of live insect activity in wooden packaging material in imported freight intercepted by Forestry Commission Plant Health Service inspectors this year

Wooden packing and packaging must meet certain standards, including bark removal and/or heat or chemical treatment, in order to kill pests and pathogens in the wood to prevent accidental introductions of exotic plant pests and diseases.

The suspect items came in shipments from four different countries which included containerised steel materials packed in wooden crates, and bulk steel with associated supporting dunnage (the wooden blocks which stop cargo moving about in ships’ holds).
There was also evidence of possibly fraudulent use of the ISPM151 marking to certify that the wood packaging had been heat or chemical treated to agreed international standards, and this is being investigated.

Andrew Smith, Head of Sustainable Forest Management at Forestry Commission England, commented,

“The first line of our strategy for protecting our trees and forests from exotic pests and diseases is to keep them out of the country if we can. It’s therefore very gratifying to know that the stepped-up surveillance we have been able to undertake with the extra government funding provided by Defra is already helping us to prevent pests from getting into trees in the wider environment and causing damage.”

The Commission has ordered the relevant wooden packaging to be destroyed, and it has positioned pheromone traps at the relevant ports to detect any insect pests which might have been introduced with non-compliant material.

The national plant protection authorities in the exporting countries have been informed of the interceptions, and asked to take steps to ensure that exporters are aware of and comply with the regulations in future.

And the Commission is working to raise the awareness of importers of steel goods of their obligations to ensure that they do not import goods in non-compliant wooden packaging. It has also refreshed its guidance for importers of goods in wooden packaging materials.

Meanwhile, the Commission is launching a survey across England to look for signs of Asian longhorn beetle. Apart from one known outbreak discovered in Kent2 in 2012, which was subject to immediate eradication action, there is no evidence that the beetle is present in the UK. However, Mr Smith said that the increased funding had enabled the commission to undertake a precautionary survey of trees around sites where imported goods, predominantly stone, are known to have been delivered in wooden crates from the Far Eastern countries where ALB is native. This is most effectively done in winter, when the broadleaved species which ALB attacks are bare of leaves, making the evidence of their presence, such as bore holes in branches, easier to find.

  1. ISPM - International Standard for Phyto-Sanitary Measures (Phyto-sanitary means plant health)
  2. Follow-up surveys in the ALB outbreak area of Kent have revealed no signs of continuing ALB presence in the area, giving rise to cautious optimism that the eradication action taken in 2012 has been successful. The area continues to be checked every year.
Last updated: 22nd June 2017