Summit to tackle disease as ash dieback found in wild

The outbreak has the potential to devastate the UK's population. Picture: Getty
The outbreak has the potential to devastate the UK's population. Picture: Getty
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THE Scottish forestry industry is calling for a fast-track decision-making system to control imports as part of an action plan to halt the spread of the ash dieback disease that has hit woodlands across the UK.

The plan has been proposed by industry body Confor, which represents 2,000 UK forestry businesses. It will be presented at a summit with the Scottish Government tomorrow to discuss Chalara ash dieback.

In addition to import controls, Confor is also calling for the government to work with the forest industry and tree nurseries to develop a plan for growing potentially all trees in the UK and to establish the scale of the disease’s spread.

The body also wants to see all governments in the UK ensuring sufficient resources are put in place over the coming year to deal with the current outbreaks and to promote more management of the UK’s forests and woodlands.

So far, the disease has been confirmed at fourteen sites, mainly across eastern Scotland, including two sites in the wild – one in Fife and another in the Scottish Borders.

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, said: “We need to learn the lessons of this, and other recent outbreaks, and take the urgent action necessary to protect our valuable forestry resource.”

Confor had considered an immediate total ban on plant imports. But it rejected that approach in favour of more targeted action because diseases such as Chalara ash dieback are windborne, while others can be transmitted by birds and animals. Mr Goodall also expressed concern that it has been found in the wild, as it has not proven possible to control its spread in other countries when it has become established in mature trees.

Forestry is a significant industry in Scotland, with studies suggesting it is worth around £1 billion to the economy and supports up to 40,000 jobs.

A Forestry Commission Scotland spokesman said the conference would bring key stakeholders from the forestry, environment and land-based industries together to formulate a strategy on managing the disease in Scotland.

“Chalara has now been found in mature ash trees in the wider environment in Scotland. This finding, and the similar cases in England, means that eradication of the disease is not a realistic option. It is here to stay and we need to work around it,” he said.

“Because the disease is only infectious in the summer, we now have some time to look closely at the best scientific advice available and to talk over options with key stakeholders, such as Confor, to chart out future actions.”

The spokesman added that there was hope that, as some mature trees have a genetic resistance, identifying them would allow the development of more resistant ash trees which could help restock Scottish woodlands.