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Government “should have acted sooner” on ash dieback

Posted on 31 October 2012

The strong prospect of Britain losing many of its ash trees to Chalara Fraxinea disease has prompted accusations that the government should have acted sooner.

Austin Brady of the Woodland Trust believes that the arrival of ash dieback disease (Chalara Fraxinea)
on our shores is a real tragedy and has joined the appeal to the public
to support a survey to discover how widespread the disease is, by
reporting any cases they find.

In particular, they should look for it fruiting on fallen blackened
twigs and leaf stalks of ash, from which its spores will begin the
infection cycle anew next spring.

"The likelihood of major damage to our native and ancient woods,
copses and hedgerows seems to be growing each day as we find out more
about this disease, and the history of its impact on the continent," he
says.

He notes
that the disease was first picked up in the UK in February, in
recently-planted trees imported from contaminated nurseries in Europe,
where the disease has already devastated 90% of the species in Denmark.

But the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) says it first
expressed its concerns about the disease back in 2009. At the time, it
says, plant health authorities responded that the disease was already
established in the UK and no quarantine measures were appropriate.

Over this last summer, following discoveries in Norfolk and Suffolk
of the disease on mature ash trees, some of which were not associated
with any recent plantings, the Woodland Trust and others called for an
immediate ban on ash plant imports and a ‘task force’ to be set up. The
government has just announced that it is doing both.

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh has accused the government
of being “asleep on the job” for not taking action to protect ash trees
at an earlier stage.

“Ash dieback was found last February in a Buckinghamshire nursery,”
she said. “Why did ministers sit back, cross their fingers and wait
until the disease was found in the wild in June?”

The Task Force is headed by Professor Ian Boyd, and will include all
of the key interests that are affected by the outbreak. Movement
restrictions will also be imposed, so that trees from infected areas
will not be able to be moved to other locations within the UK.

Announcing the ban on a visit to Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, Owen
Paterson said: “This is a very serious disease that demands action to
stop its spread. I have ordered both an import ban and movement
restrictions on trees from infected areas. This comes into force
immediately."

Steve Scott, area director for the Forestry Commission in the East of
England, says that 100,000 trees have been destroyed so far, of which a
“relatively small number” had been planted in Norfolk and Suffolk.

The HTA has issued a statement arguing that, "given that the
sporelation period is now over, no further destruction notices should be
served until the full extent of the outbreak has been determined".

It says that containment orders should be issued instead, to avoid
unnecessary expenditure in the event that the survey finds that the
disease is widespread.