Forestry Commission Scotland has announced that the UK Government is considering legislation to ban the movement of ash trees from areas where the destructive Chalara dieback disease of ash trees might be present.
This follows the discovery of ash trees infected by the Chalara fraxinea fungus in several nurseries and recent tree planting sites in England and Scotland.
The infected plants had come from nurseries in continental Europe, or had been in contact with ash plants imported from the continent.
The Forestry Commission, the Food & Environment Research agency (Fera) and the Scottish Government’s plant health team are requiring the destruction of all infected ash plants before the disease has a chance to become established in the UK.
Plant health authorities in Wales and Northern Ireland are also on high alert for the disease, and Dr John Morgan, head of the Forestry Commission’s Plant Health Service says: ‘The UK’s trees, woods and forests play a hugely important role in our environment, landscape, culture, industry and health and well-being, and we must do everything we can to protect them from threats such as Chalara dieback of ash.
‘Chalara dieback is the single biggest threat to our native broadleaf trees since Dutch elm disease wiped out tens of millions of elm trees from the 1960s onwards. The Government is taking precautionary action now to prevent a recurrence of that situation and to protect our landscape, industry and wildlife.’
The Government, through Fera, is consulting on a pest risk analysis for Chalara fraxinea drafted by scientists at the Forestry Commission’s Forest Research agency. The consultation period closes on 26 October, and this process will produce recommendations to the Government about managing the threat to the UK’s ash trees.
Dr Morgan explains: ‘One option Ministers are considering is to legislate to restrict movement of ash plants so that they can only be moved from areas known to be free of the disease. In doing so the Government will take into account evidence received during the consultation process, but our aim is to prevent the establishment of this disease.
‘In practice this will mean a suspension of imports into and movements within Great Britain until there is sufficient evidence that they can safely resume.
‘We are making this announcement now to signal the Government’s intentions to businesses that grow or trade in ash plants.
‘The international trade in live plants poses the risk of pests and diseases accidentally entering the UK from abroad. For that reason the UK is also fully engaging in the review of the European Union’s plant health regime to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the 21st-century global trading environment.’
Further information about Chalara dieback is available here on the Forestry Commission’s website. The Pest Risk Analysis and details of the consultation are available in the consultations pages here on the Fera website.