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UK preparedness to tackle health threats to trees and plants

20 November 2012

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has announced a new inquiry examining the adequacy of the Government’s approaches for detecting and managing potential threats to tree and plant health.

Ash dieback disease (Chalara fraxinea) threatens to have a major impact on the country’s environment and economy with some 80 million ash trees at risk. In addition, there are a number of other potential health threats to different tree and plant species. The aim of this inquiry is to explore whether Defra policies such as the Action Plan on Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity are fit for purpose. It will also ask whether there are sufficient resources and adequate management plans to effectively prevent disease outbreaks and, where necessary, to mitigate impacts.

The Committee invites evidence on these issues, in particular:

  • Are the roles and responsibilities of public agencies for monitoring incidences of plant and tree diseases or pests sufficiently clearly defined?
  • Are the Defra, Forestry Commission and Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) contingency plans for managing a disease outbreak, such as Chalara fraxinea, adequate and appropriate to control its spread and mitigate the impacts of disease?
  • How effective is co-ordination between agencies such as Natural England, the Forestry Commission and Fera?
  • Are there sufficient resources for research to provide effective evidence on the emergence of new threats to trees and plants and for management of existing threats? Is there sufficient coordination of research effort and does the UK have an adequate pool of the right skills to draw upon?
  • Are sufficient resources being put into developing effective responses to plant health threats, such as improving resistance, biocontrols and chemical or management responses?
  • Does the international regime for trade in plants and the EU plant health framework provide a sufficiently flexible and responsive framework to respond to newly identified pests and diseases or to those that are spreading? Can these regimes impede stronger import controls?
  • Are plant health controls sufficiently broad to cover trade in tree and plant products such as biofuels?
  • What lessons are being learnt in the UK from the management of  Chalara dieback of ash in other EU Member States: for example on trade in plants, management of infected trees including saplings, and development of resistant trees?

The Committee invites all interested parties to address these and related matters in writing by Monday 14 January 2013.

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