The HTA attended yesterday's summit on ash dieback hosted by Owen Paterson, the Defra Secretary of State. The summit brought together over a hundred different stakeholders with an interest in tackling the disease, including scientists, industry, government agencies and charities.
The Secretary of State gave an update of the unprecedented nationwide survey to estimate the true scale of the outbreak. To date, the disease caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea has been confirmed in 115 sites, including 15 nurseries, 39 planting sites and 61 locations in the wider environment, i.e. forests and woodlands. The increase in confirmed sites merely reflects the intense survey work which has taken place in the last week. The disease is not currently spreading, and may have been in infected sites for a number of years.
The Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington has established an expert group to advise on the scientific evidence and approach to managing the disease. This Group will provide scientific advice on the action plan that the Government will produce by the end of the week. Some of the wide range of suggestions that emerged from the Summit include:
• • Better awareness raising and communication with the public on biosecurity measures, e.g. leaf litter management;
• • Develop partnerships to continue surveillance for disease and resistance;
• • Prioritise action on newly planted trees rather than destroying mature trees in the wider environment.
Longer term, there was acknowledgement that the UK needs to better prepare for the threat from similar pests and disease. There was broad agreement that there needs to be more research into potential threats, and greater emphasis on biosecurity measures to protect the UK from these risks. Lines of communication should also be improved between the plant health authorities and landowners, foresters and the industry. And the forestry grant scheme needs to be improved to provide greater long term stability to enable UK growers to grow UK plants to meet UK demand.
The HTA reaffirmed its full support to tackling the disease, and to playing its part in improving biosecurity across Europe. We look forward to seeing the short term and long term actions put forward by the Government. The Secretary of State agreed to consider our observation that some UK growers might need financial support to survive the immediate ramifications of this disease, in order to exist and supply better managed planting schemes in the future.
For further information, please see www.the-hta.org/ashdieback