Dont have an account?Sign up here
12 November 2012
Woodland Trust briefing paper for the House of Commons Opposition day debate on Government Response to Ash dieback November 12th
The Woodland Trust, the UK's leading woodland conservation charity, welcomes this debate. The potentially devastating impact on our landscape of ash dieback makes it very worthy of a major debate on the floor of the House of Commons.
The Woodland Trust has been working with others to raise awareness of tree diseases, including acute oak decline for a number of years, not least in the 2011 report 'The State of the UK's Forests, Woods and Trees' - a report written in conjunction with a wide range of forestry and conservation groups.
Unfortunately it has taken a tragedy such as Ash dieback to really focus minds on the issue of tree diseases. Until this became a reality it has been difficult to impress on people the importance of protecting the UK's trees and the need to enforce stricter controls to prevent new pests and diseases entering the country.
The crisis is a sad reflection of the degree of priority that has been afforded to the protection and safeguarding of our natural woodland resources by successive governments. The media, private and voluntary sectors too, have been insufficiently vigilant. The current crisis needs to be a turning point.
It is very important, amid the prominence of this debate, to not lose sight of the wider policy context. The Government's response to the report of the Independent Panel on Forestry Policy - set up in the wake of the public forests sell off row - is due in January. An uninspiring response, devoid of adequate resources, that takes insufficient account of this changed backdrop will not do.
The response to the Panel report needs to reflect a heightened awareness of the fragility of our woodland resource that so helps define our sense of nationhood and be ambitious in its plans to better protect and expand it. Trees deliver on a wide range of policies - not simply landscape enhancement and biodiversity but also major current priorities such as public health, flood alleviation and carbon sequestration. They are a value for money policy tool and deserve greater attention and investment than they have enjoyed to date. This needs to be acted on in the months and years ahead after the current media spotlight has receded. Only then will we really know that this has genuinely been a turning point.
2. The Government response to Ash dieback so far
The response by the Government to Ash dieback since the end of October in escalating this to a national emergency has so far been in the right direction: banning ash imports and movements; calling a summit of experts; setting up an expert task force and now urgently moving to produce an action plan with an interim statement post-Summit.
We welcome the comment in the Written Ministerial Statement of 9 November that the Secretary of State is 'prepared to consider radical measures to protect the woodland environment'. Such measures are much needed and overdue. He already has a strong resource sitting on his desk in the form of the report of the Independent Panel on Forestry Policy itself which enjoys widespread support across the sector.
We also welcome the fact that mature trees will not currently be removed given their ability to help us learn more about genetic strains that might be resistant to the disease and their wildlife value.
3. Other measures required
These are early days however; the progress and sense of purpose needs to be maintained. As we have been arguing, the Government's 2011 Tree Health and Biosecurity Action Plan needs to be accelerated and made more specific.
We look forward to seeing the more detailed plan at the end of November. The measures that need to be implemented for all tree diseases in our view, are, by theme:
Biosecurity: measures around controlling movement of tree stock (mainly short to medium term) to prevent imports of potentially diseased material
• Amendments to EU plant health regulations so as to create through law a more responsive and less bureaucratic plant health system allowing for greater protection of the UK trees and plants when issues arise and one that is more forward looking in preparing the UK for potential new diseases and pests.
• A voluntary chain of custody for forest nursery plants as proposed by those Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF) members who purchase trees in bulk. UK forest nurseries would be required to adopt this to demonstrate the origins of their stock and that they are disease free. This has to be a temporary measure until more robust systems are in place.
• Develop a ‘charter mark’, based on the above, in order to build public confidence in the provenance and quality of saplings and to engage the public in action to solve the problem of unidentifiable nursery sources. Other sectors have used this method to change supplier behaviour driven by consumer demand (e.g. Fairtrade).
• Amendments by the Forestry Commission to Forest Reproductive Materials regulations which control the sourcing and recording of seed sources/materials of any planting stocks. This is to rigorously improve through law, traceability, transparency and confidence regarding where both the seeds for, and growing on, of all trees takes place.
Research based measures: Research and good practice measures: issues relating to better understanding of the causes and biology of diseases which in turn can inform measures to control their spread in the wider environment
• Increased investment for Forest Research (FR) to ensure adequate research into the epidemiology of new diseases - in particular improved understanding about what causes them
• Adopt a new approach to allocation of FR budgets to favour research investment into areas of high/potential impact and risk to public benefits delivered by GBs forests such as tree disease (rather than on issues around marginal increases in timber yield for example which have relatively low impact)
• More funding for Forestry Commission FC) /Food and Environment Research Agency(FERA) to undertake detection of tree disease in wider countryside
• Ring fenced fighting fund to allow Forest Research to invest early in researching problems and solutions before disease issues get out of hand
Advice/standards and support: programmes of information and communication to woodland owners, managers, users and the general public about what to do to prevent tree disease and how to respond to it
• Specific investment to support increased participation and engagement by landowners and the wider public to work with tree health experts and scientists to deliver more comprehensive and effective early warning and monitoring systems for tree health.
• Clear advice for landowners and forest owners/managers as to how to deal with immediate impact of infected ash trees on their property which takes account of biodiversity needs, public safety concerns and appropriate disease control
• Greater capacity for Forest Research and Forestry Commission to create and communicate good practice guidance to woodland owners, managers and users on dealing with a whole range of tree diseases
• Greater priority to be given by FC to investment in general measures to make woods and trees more resilient overall such as buffering and linking of ancient woods, grants targeted to promoting the principles set out in the Lawton review
• FC to require supply chain information from Woodland Grant Scheme applicants from their suppliers as part of conditions of paying planting grants
4. What is the Woodland Trust doing about it?
The Trust is committed to tackling the arrival and spread of tree disease as a whole. As well as leading the overall fight for the future of our trees and woods we will work with specialists and engage the public in our mission. We have this week published our own three point plan setting out what we ourselves are doing:
TREE HEALTH - THE WOODLAND TRUST'S THREE POINT PLAN:
1. Bringing scientists and the public together to monitor and protect the UK's trees and woods
Together, the Forestry Commission, FERA, the National Trust, and the Woodland Trust have submitted a bid for funding to the EU LIFE fund (total value £2.5m) for a five-year project to enable tree health scientists to greatly extend their reach and knowledge of the health of the UK's trees. By enlisting and supporting members of the public to become citizen scientists, we will be able to monitor and report on the health of trees across the UK, providing a comprehensive early warning system for tree pests and diseases.
We will not know the outcome of this bid until September 2013, and success is not guaranteed. This project is also only the start of the kind of citizen action that needs to be mobilised. Given the urgency of the current tree health crisis we can't wait for the EU bidding process to run its slow course. We want to close the one million pound funding gap and implement this project now. We believe this fits with the emphasis placed on citizen science in the WMS of 9 November and hope it will be accelerated by Defra.
2. Growing our own
Our bold vision of doubling native woodland cover involves us buying hundreds of thousands of trees every year to plant on our own estate or to give or sell to others. Recent events have shown that we, like others, should have investigated our supply chain more thoroughly and cannot have confidence in current supply chain processes. Over the coming months and years, we intend to ensure that we can have 100% confidence that we plant only trees that are truly UK grown and are disease free. We will invest in UK tree nurseries, working closely with them over a long period of time to produce the trees we need, trees in which we can have 100% confidence. In parallel we will support, and/or invest in community and local tree nurseries to help to ensure that new tree planting is truly rooted in the community.
3. Learning together
We will set up one or more events to bring together specialists from the UK, Europe and the wider world to share knowledge, and to help us to safeguard the conservation benefits of UK trees and woods in the face of an unprecedented wave of pests and diseases.