1. What are the effects of the legislation?
The UK Government introduced legislation on Monday 29 October 2012 to implement requirements to protect Great Britain’s ash trees against the threat from the Hymenoscyphus fraxineus fungus (formerly known as Chalara fraxinea), which causes Chalara ash dieback disease. The legislation restricts imports of ash plants and seeds to those originating in pest-free areas. Because no country has declared a pest-free area for H. fraxineus, this effectively means a total ban on imports and movement of ash trees and seed for planting within Britain until a pest-free area is declared.
2. What about Northern Ireland?
The Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government have introduced similar legislation which extends to the movement of ash wood.
3. What factors were considered in deciding to introduce the legislation?
The legislation was subject to Ministerial approval and a shortened Parliamentary process. Factors which were considered in deciding whether the legislation should be introduced include whether there was evidence that H. fraxineus was already established in the Great Britain environment, and whether there are any serious unintended consequences which had not been foreseen. At that time there was no evidence of widespread establishment, and replies to the consultation largely supported an eradication strategy.
4. What does the legislation permit and prohibit?
- prohibits all imports of ash plants, trees and seeds into Great Britain until further notice (because no pest-free areas are established);
- prohibits all movements of plant-passported ash plants, trees and seeds within Great Britain until further notice (because no pest-free areas are in place);
- continues to permit logs, woodchips and firewood, which pose a very low risk of disease transmission especially when they are kiln dried, to be imported from EU countries. In the unlikely event that this material is found to contain infection, action such as destruction will be ordered;
- continues to permit movements within Great Britain of all ash timber, which poses a very low risk of disease transmission;*
- continues to permit imports of sawn ash timber from certain countries abroad under existing regulations against the forestry pest Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). These require the material to be accompanied by official phytosanitary (plant health) certificates declaring that the material either originated in areas known to be free of EAB, or that the wood is bark-free (which addresses the Chalara risk as well) before entering Great Britain. Imported woodchips and bark of ash material have the same certification requirements as for wood, but the alternative to originating in an area of pest freedom is that the material has been processed into pieces of not more than 2.5cm thickness and width.
* Although there are no specific measures on logs and firewood in the legislation, the general prohibition on spreading H. fraxineus means that movement is prohibited within Great Britain of logs and firewood from woodlands and other sites sites with confirmed H. fraxineus infection and which have been served with a statutory Plant Health Notice.
5. Am I still be able to import ash firewood into Great Britain?
6. Am I still able to export ash plants, trees and seeds from Great Britain to other countries?
Although exporting ash planting material is not specifically prohibited by the legislation, the current absence of any plant-passporting arrangements within Great Britain means export is not possible.
7. If I have a mature ash tree on my land infected with H. fraxineus, will I be able to use the wood and arisings for firewood?
Until further notice, movement of all ash material off an infected site which has been served with a stautory Plant health Notice is prohibited. We will review the measures for controlling movement of wood from infected trees once we have fully assessed the national disease situation. However, the wood may be used as fuel if it remains on the site.
7. What is a ‘pest-free area’?
The requirements for establishing a pest-free area are set out in an International Phytosanitary Standard No. 4, developed by the International Plant Protection Convention. A pest-free area can comprise an entire country, or a specific area within a country where an organism is otherwise present. The principles of establishing and maintaining a pest-free area involve surveillance to confirm pest freedom, phytosanitary (plant health) measures to maintain freedom, and checks to verify continued freedom. Pest-free areas are established and monitored by the relevant plant health authorities. In the UK these are APHA (for England and, on behalf of the Welsh Government, for Wales), the Forestry Commission, the Scottish Government, and the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.
8. When did the requirements take effect?
Monday 29 October 2012.
9. What is the impact on British nurseries?
Nurseries in Great Britain are subject to the same requirements as those for nurseries in other countries. This means that Great Britain, or part of it, will need to be designated as a pest-free area before movements of ash planting material can resume. We are gathering evidence from surveillance and inspections data to determine to what extent H. fraxineus is established in Great Britain. Presuming a pest-free area will be able to be established, individual nurseries and seed suppliers growing and trading ash planting material should apply for authorisation to issue plant passports.
10. How long would this process take?
Data is already being gathered by the Forestry Commission and other plant health inspectors through a variety of means. This includes inspections of premises registered for plant passporting purposes, general quarantine surveillance visits, targeted inspections of premises and surrounding areas in response to findings of H. fraxineus, and surveillance of the wider environment (through Forestry Commission National Forest Inventory plots). Inspections of premises which are growing and trading ash will be carried out over winter to confirm that the disease is not present and that plant passports may be issued. It is anticipated that a decision on pest-free area status will be taken as soon as possible in 2013.
11. What will happen to British nurseries in the meantime?
Nurseries growing and holding ash plants and seed are not able to move passported material, because they do not have the necessary authorisation.
12. What about retailers/landscapers/users of ash?
If a pest-free area is established, ash planting material would need to be passported, whether or not it was intended for supply through a retail or landscaping outlet. End users do not need to be authorised to issue plant passports, but will not have access to passported material until a pest-free area is established.
13. Is there a ban on planting ash?
No, but passported ash planting material will need to be assessed as being free of H. fraxineus and authorised to be moved. Users of ash should plant only plant passported stocks.
14. What if the disease is found to be established in areas of Great Britain?
H. fraxineus has been intercepted at a limited number of nurseries and at sites where ash trees have recently been planted, and in the natural wider environment in a number of sites. We now know that eradication of the disease from great Britain is not longer possible, so those areas where it is present in the wider natural environment might need to be excluded from the pest-free area. Decisions will be taken in response to the evidence gathered. In the event that certain areas are excluded from the pest-free area, nurseries within those areas will not be authorised to issue plant passports for ash planting material. The size of any excluded area will depend on the scale of the finding, and there will also need to be precautionary measures imposed in a buffer zone surrounding the area. Such measures will need to stay in place until there is evidence that H. fraxineus had been eradicated.
15. What is the impact on nurseries in other countries?
It is not permitted for nurseries in other countries to supply ash planting material to Great Britain and Northern Ireland until such time that pest-free areas are established in other countries.
16. Are there any pest-free areas for H. fraxineus in place elsewhere?
Not at present, and the extent to which they can be established depends on the amount of surveillance being carried out, and the degree of confidence that this surveillance provides that H. fraxineus is not present. The process would be more difficult for those countries, including most EU Member States, where H. fraxineus is already established in the environment. H. fraxineus has only limited distribution outside of the EU, and there are parts of the EU which remain free of it.
17. What about the effects on exports of ash plants for planting?
The legislation does not specifically prohibit the exporting of ash plants, but the passporting requirements effectively mean that export is impossible. If a pest-free area is established within Great Britain, exports may resume from the pest-free area, provided the exporters meet any specific requirements on this disease set by individual countries. No other EU Member State except Ireland has introduced requirements on H. fraxineus, so exports to Member States would not be affected and, once a pest-free area is established and passports can be issued, this would provide additional assurance that stocks were free of H. fraxineus.
18. How would we know if ash planting material comes from a pest-free area?
This would be confirmed through the issue of a plant passport (for EU-traded ash planting material) and through an Additional Declaration on a Phytosanitary Certificate (for imports from non-EU countries).
19. What is the difference between a pest-free area and a protected zone?
The concepts are similar, although a pest-free area is an internationally recognised designation, while a protected zone is an EU designation. It might be that the Great Britain requirements are recognised in EU legislation in future, in which case protected zones would be referred to (for EU areas).
20. How long will the requirements remain in place?
The requirements are intended to reflect a precautionary approach, to protect Great Britain against the risk of further introductions and spread of infected ash planting material. They will stay in place while evidence is generated to determine a longer-term H. fraxineus, consideration will be given to recognising this status in EU legislation (through designation as a Protected Zone). The timing of this will depend on the results of evidence generated and the priority attached to this issue by the European Commission and other Member States. Until that time, Great Britain requirements will remain in force, providing an equivalent degree of protection to any measures which might be introduced in future through EU legislation.
21. What will premises already authorised to issue plant passports for other plants do?
They will need to request authorisation to issue plant passports for ash plants.
22. What about premises not currently authorised to issue plant passports?
They will also need to request authorisation to issue plant passports for ash plants.
Premises in England and Wales will need to contact their local Plant Health and Seeds Inspector at http://www.fera.defra.gov.uk/plants/plantHealth/contactUs.cfm to arrange authorisation visits.
In Scotland, they should contact firstname.lastname@example.org
23. Where can I get further details about the plant passporting process?
England and Wales details are available at http://www.fera.defra.gov.uk/plants/forms/plantHealthForms.cfm#plantPassporting
Scotland details are available from http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/farmingrural/Agriculture/plant/PlantHealth/PlantMovements
24. Are other EU Member States considering similar action?
The only other Member State to have taken similar national action of this nature is Ireland. Other Member States’ plant health authorities would need to assess their own situations to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to designate pest-free areas within their territories. There would also be consideration of whether the Great Britain and Northern Ireland measures should be reflected in EU legislation, at which time other Member States would have the opportunity to designate protected zones.
25. How will the restrictions be enforced?
APHA’s Plant Health & Seeds Inspectorate and the Scottish Government carry out regular visits to premises authorised to issue plant passports and carry out surveillance of other premises involved in the production and trade of plants and associated products.
26. What penalties can be applied to businesses or organisations which breached the restrictions?
Authorisation to issue plant passports could be suspended or withdrawn, and prosecution could be considered for serious breaches (involving either an authorised passporter or other grower/trader). The maximum fine in the event of a successful prosecution is £5000.
27. What will happen to the legislation and the restrictions if it becomes clear that H. fraxineus is widely established throughout Great Britain, and the restrictions are therefore pointless?
We will keep any requirements under review in light of the most up-to-date surveillance and inspection results. In the event that H. fraxineus is considered to be widely established, consideration will be given to whether the legislation is achieving the desired results and remains justifiable.
28. What contingency plans are in place for handling outbreaks in the “wider” or “natural” environment?
The response to outbreaks in the wider or natural environment are being considered in the context of a number of factors. The first consideration is whether action to eradicate or contain the disease will be successful. If there is a high likelihood of success, we can attempt to eradicate or contain the disease by destroying ash trees which are infected or at risk from infection. The second consideration has to be whether the action to eradicate or contain the disease is affordable. While this would take into account the full range of the socio-economic factors involved, it must also consider the financial cost of implementing action to eradicate or contain outbreaks. Defra is developing a Chalara control strategy.
29. Does the new legislation allow me to carry out research into H. fraxineus?
Licensing of research has been permitted from 19 November 2012. Scientists and researchers should contact the Forestry Commission’s Plant Health Service to apply for a research licence. These will usually only be granted to applicants with appropriate quarantine facilities.