Tighter restrictions on oak tree imports come into force

HM Govin Conservation & Ecology

Strengthened measures on the import of most species of oak into England were introduced to protect native trees from the threat of the tree pest Oak Processionary Moth (OPM) on Monday 15 July.

The bolstered measures will only permit imports of certain oak trees, including:

• those from OPM free countries

• those from designated pest free areas including Protected Zones (PZ) - an area of the European Union declared free of OPM

• those that have been grown under complete physical protection for their lifetime

This Statutory Instrument (SI) builds on measures introduced in August 2018 and applies to all oak trees, except cork oak, over a certain size. This is because these trees represent the greatest likelihood of introducing OPM into the UK PZ, as they are more susceptible to pest populations and more difficult to inspect.

The restrictions will cover both imports from overseas and the movement of trees from areas of the country where OPM is already present - in London and surrounding counties.

The Plant Health Service has received reports of an exceptional expansion of the OPM population in parts of Europe due to the hot weather experienced last year.

The Plant Health Service intercepted findings of Oak Processionary Moth (OPM) caterpillars on trees recently imported from the Netherlands, and are asking everyone to urgently check recently planted large oak trees.

Dr Anna Brown, Head of Tree Health & Contingency Planning, Forestry Commission, said: "Those of us involved in importing or trading plants must maintain our vigilance against exotic pests and diseases such as OPM. There is a lot we can do such as only buying stock from reputable, responsible suppliers and inspecting imported plants."

"These stronger requirements will increase our protection, but my message remains the same: inspect, inspect and inspect again. We can't check imported plants too often for signs of trouble. Don't presume that because your supplier found no evidence of a pest or disease that you won't either. You might spot something that they have missed."

If you suspect OPM, you should not attempt to destroy or move infected material yourself as the nests and caterpillars can pose some risks to human health.

Visit the Forest Research website for more information on how to identify OPM. To report sightings of pests and diseases, use the TreeAlert online portal.