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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 469 ii
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity
Wednesday 16 October 2013
DR simon pryor, harry cotterell and don pendergrast
paul wilkinson, dr hilary allison and mike wood
Evidence heard in Public Questions 216 267
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Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
on Wednesday 16 October 2013
Ms Anne McIntosh (Chair)
Mrs Mary Glindon
Mrs Emma LewellBuck
Ms Margaret Ritchie
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Harry Cotterell, President, Country Land and Business Association, Don Pendergrast, Plant Health Adviser, National Farmers’ Union, and Dr Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director, National Trust, gave evidence.
Q216 Chair: Good afternoon, and may I, in particular, welcome our guest experts here this afternoon. Thank you very much indeed for being with us and participating in our inquiry. For the record, if I could ask each of you to state your names and positions.
Dr Pryor: Simon Pryor, National Trust, Natural Environment Director.
Don Pendergrast: Don Pendergrast, Plant Health Adviser, NFU.
Harry Cotterell: Harry Cotterell, President of the CLA.
Q217 Chair: We are looking at the whole aspect of tree health, so I would just like to ask one or two general questions, if I may, at the beginning. Where you agree, do not feel that you have to each speak. Where you disagree, please speak as loudly as you would each wish. Are you concerned at the possible lack of tree and plant health experts in the country at this time?
Don Pendergrast: It is certainly a concern for the NFU, which we have raised a number of times, that there is limited resource in this area. There has been a continual reduction of resources, continual consolidation, and a limited amount of people coming through and encouragement of new people coming into this industry and this sector to build up the level of expertise necessary. We saw that during the Chalara outbreak when it first happened; there was a scratching around to find information and pull everything together. We have also seen it with regard to other potential plant health risks as they have come into the country, where it is difficult sometimes to identify people with expertise.
Dr Pryor: We would certainly agree, particularly on the tree health side of things; there is a severe lack of experts both at the research level and also managing epidemics on the ground. It feels like they are pulled between managing Phytophthora and now Chalara and we still want them to be preparing for the next one, so it is a serious problem.
Harry Cotterell: I have nothing to add.
Q218 Chair: I will ask you the next question first, Mr Cotterell. Are you convinced that there are sufficient resources to tackle tree health in other aspects rather than just the research aspects, but its containment and other aspects of tree health as well?
Harry Cotterell: It is always the easiest thing in the world to cry out for more resources, but we do understand the incredible difficulty of the public finance situation at the moment. Broadly speaking, the Chalara issue has been dealt with by Government with a relatively low regulatory input, which has obviously been not too expensive. For Phytophthora, certainly over £20 million has been spent so far and there is absolutely no indication that that particular disease is under control at all, so I suspect there is resource around and resource can be found. More importantly than resource, at the moment, we are very pleased to see the fact that plant and tree diseases have become a Defra priority in the Secretary of State’s mind. That has been very welcome from our point of view.
Dr Pryor: We would be arguing for proportionality. Just to put it into perspective, the National Trust is just one owner, but we are estimating the cost of Chalara alone to us to be around £15 million, which is £15 million we cannot spend on other conservation priorities. That is for one owner. It does not feel like the resources that are being put in are proportionate to that in terms of trying to avoid those costs for people. It is also the way in which the plant health budget is deployed. We are slightly concerned about the very heavy investment in Phytophthora and the very light investment in Chalara.
Q219 Chair: If we take just ash trees on their own, I understand there are 80 million ash trees at risk. When you give the figure of £15 million cost, is that the cost of ultimately removing diseased trees?
Dr Pryor: It covers the cost right through-the direct cost to the Trust as a whole. The biggest slice of that is managing the tree surgery in terms of keeping those trees relatively safe where they are on road sides or path sides or in parks and gardens. We do not want to shut our properties, so we need to keep them in a safe condition without simply just felling them all. However, there is the loss of timber income, the replacement cost and the protection cost. It is a very worrying bill to be looking at.
Q220 Chair: With my limited knowledge of the subject, I understand that ash trees, say, are used for both hedgerow trees and woodland trees. Where they are growing on the road side, will they be the responsibility of the Highways Agency, the county council or whose responsibility are they?
Dr Pryor: The landowners’ responsibility.
Chair: Even if it is on a road verge.
Dr Pryor: Yes.
Q221 Chair: All that is costed in. Do we have a cost nationally, in England alone, of what the cost of removing those trees would be?
Harry Cotterell: It is impossible to extrapolate. It depends what value you put on the timber, because one of the problems is that the sawn ash market is incredibly small. In fact, one of the great successes in the last few years has been the opening up of more diverse markets for ash timber. I personally was exporting ash trees to Ireland for hurley sticks. They had been originally planted to become tennis racquets, so there has been a widening of the ash market as a whole, but it is not big enough to take the quantities we are talking about. Having said that, the private sector has really got motoring, and they are exploring export routes to South-East Asia and China for ash that is going to become a casualty of this disease, but it is almost impossible to extrapolate over the country what this disease will cost.
Q222 Chair: We saw some import of diseased wood into this country. Do you think China would willingly take diseased wood?
Harry Cotterell: They will already, if it is sprayed, and Vietnam will take it without it being sprayed.
Q223 Chair: You will not be surprised by this question, possibly. Should we be looking at, and is it feasible to look at, an antidote?
Harry Cotterell: Everyone in the whole of this country would be absolutely delighted if there was an economically viable, easily applied, workable and environmentally safe antidote. It is as simple as that. The difficulty is there does not seem to be one available at the moment. It does seem that there would be a commercial imperative to get one off the ground, at the moment, but there does not seem to be one, so we have to play the hand we are dealt in that case.
Don Pendergrast: Work should still continue towards developing and looking for control measures, but I agree, at the moment there is no evidence there is anything clearly available.
Q224 Chair: Could it only be sprayed?
Dr Pryor: When one talks about an antidote, that would be the ideal: to be able to apply something to a tree and it would get better, as simple as that. However, we ought to be looking more widely at that and ways of reducing the spread; simpler measures might simply reduce the amount of spores-even mechanical treatments for the leaf litter, in order to reduce the spore level. That might well slow the whole disease down sufficiently to avoid the worst impacts.
Q225 Chair: We have had the final report of the Expert Taskforce. What do you think of the actions taken to date? Do they go far enough?
Don Pendergrast: The actions have been very good so far. There has been good cooperation with the industry. There are concerns, certainly from our members’ perspectives, that maybe we do not have a real handle on what is going on in the landscape, in terms of the hedgerows, etc, and that is a big issue that needs to be addressed. There may be people who are unaware they have ash within their hedgerows, and hedgerows also represent a significant risk in terms of transfer. They are the highways of the landscape, so there is a real concern there from our end that maybe that has not been addressed as fully. However, more broadly, the work has been very good in terms of cooperation and management of the outbreak.
Dr Pryor: The recommendations felt sound, and we would support them. We just argue for vigour and energy in terms of pursuing them. We are slightly worried that the risk register feels like absolutely the right mechanism, but it feels slow and perhaps a bit onerous, and we need to move quickly to some of these solutions. Similarly, in terms of the review of the plant health regulations, there is a need to be ambitious and say, "Let us not do the minimum. Let us do what is right for this country."
Don Pendergrast: We have a concern, as well, that it is important we focus on the broader aspects. It is not just tree health that is at stake here; there is plant health. In the last year, we have seen spotted wing drosophila coming into the country, which is a significant concern for a lot of fruit producers. We have also had a number of other outbreaks: concern about the stink bug coming into Kent. There is a wide range of other issues that are of concern. The risk register is very welcome, but it almost feels a little bit late. It is good that we have it, but it does need to be regularly reviewed and it does need to take account of economic impacts on the longevity of the horticultural and fruit and veg sector, not just tree health. There needs to be a broader focus there.
Q226 Chair: Are there any new problems or difficulties that you have identified in the last six months that you feel need to be dealt with?
Harry Cotterell: Relating to Chalara or wider?
Chair: Any tree disease.
Harry Cotterell: We have been saying for a long time that there are a huge number of diseases knocking at the door, the majority of which are fungal, and, if they get in, they are going to have a Dutch elm disease type impact. Dutch elm disease is still out there. You can grow an elm tree to about 15 or 20 years old as easy as anything, but you will not see them older than that because the disease gets to them. The situation is very, very concerning, and there is no indication that it is getting any better, particularly with Phytophthora, which is a real disaster in the southwest to some extent, but southwest Wales particularly.
Dr Pryor: I would support that. I am pleased with the rapid response that was taken about chestnut blight, and it felt right to move quickly. The thing I am concerned about is that there are developments with the existing diseases, Chalara in particular. We were looking at a site infected on our National Trust land near Exmoor last week, which is very different from previous infections. They are older trees. The disease has been there for 10 years; it does not appear to have spread, and not that many of the trees have died. Therefore, we are finding some very interesting and challenging new information coming up, and we gather we are not alone in having a site like that. I am particularly worried about whether the agencies involved are sufficiently adaptive and flexible in their approach, to say, "No, there is new information. We do not fully understand this disease yet." It totally does not fit with our existing modelling, so we will be arguing strongly for closer observation and more trialling. We do not know how this disease is going to behave here and we need to adapt our approach to respond to it.
Q227 Ms Ritchie: The first recommendation of the Expert Taskforce was that a prioritised UK plant health risk register be developed. In that regard, how effective will the risk register be in identifying and combating disease issues?
Harry Cotterell: Our view is that the risk register is extremely welcome, and, as long as it can be effectively used by people on the ground, i.e. it is easily searched by both disease and by species, we are sure it will be a great benefit to farmers, landowners and land managers on the ground. It also has a role for policymakers, and the wider establishment as a whole, to horizon-scan for the diseases that are out there. Obviously, that is not going to be a great deal of use on the ground.
Our concerns are the mitigation measures that are in there must be utilised, and they must be utilised firmly and effectively. We are not an organisation that looks for significant regulation. Instinctively, we are deregulators, but we feel that in this instance, if you do not apply the mitigation measures to the full extent that they can be applied, it will probably be disastrous.
Don Pendergrast: The risk register is very welcome. We have been involved already, to some degree, in the development, and are looking forward to being involved further. Going to the risk-mitigation measures, that is probably one of our concern areas. One thing we have seen with spotted wing drosophila is that we have an increasingly limited pool of chemical and even biochemical controls available to us. There is a real risk that while we might be able to produce a risk register, we may have limited or no mitigation measures available to us to manage the potential outbreaks. I know HDC did a lot of work, with CRD and Fera’s help, to try to get some of the pesticides that were available registered for use for control of the pests there. That is a real concern that we need to be aware of as we go forward: that we have a diminishing range of available tools to manage the potential increasing risks we are seeing with global trade.
Dr Pryor: I have one minor thing. I would certainly concur with that, but one of our general concerns is the join-up between the different agencies involved, and I was slightly alarmed to hear the other day that they had been working through the risk register and the Forestry Commission and Forest Research have not been involved so far. I do not know quite what is behind that, but the general point is that we really want close collaboration and real join-up between the different agencies.
Harry Cotterell: On that, it is now with Forest Research being peer-reviewed, and we think it is going to be released in the next couple of days.
Q228 Mrs LewellBuck: The Government intends to review the regulation on plant health and forestry. I am just curious as to what you think the priorities should be for the Government in that area.
Harry Cotterell: The first priority must be to keep them out, because our experience is that once they are in there is very little that can be done. In my experience-Simon may know better-there has only been one disease that has been effectively controlled by the Forestry Commission since its arrival, on a wide scale, and that was the Dendroctonus beetle in Norway spruce. They found a predator that was effectively used, funnily enough, on some woods that I managed back in the 1980s. However, beyond that, there are virtually no examples, so the control has to start with keeping it out.
The second point is that plant disease does not respect national boundaries, even if they are coastlines, and unfortunately this is probably going to be better dealt with on a European scale. The review of the plant health directive, which is currently being undertaken, will probably be more relevant than necessarily what we can do here ourselves.
Don Pendergrast: A number of the findings or the potential recommendations that have come out the report do mirror some of the things that are being proposed at a European level in terms of the plant health regulations. I would agree with Harry, to some degree. It is about keeping them out. That needs to be the priority, so things like getting rid of the baggage exemption, particularly for the public bringing in plant material. Foot and mouth is a good example of this, is it not? After the foot and mouth outbreak we did see raised awareness. However, we do have a concern that, even though things have improved on that front, people probably are not aware of the plant health issues, but also the deterrent needs to be there. There needs to be a deterrent for people who bring in material, so that they are aware that they are breaking the law. What are the punishments for people who are willingly breaking the law and bringing material into the UK?
Dr Pryor: I would agree that the first priority is to keep them out.
Q229 Sheryll Murray: Could I turn to the about-to-be-recruited Chief Plant Health Officer? I know he is going to report directly to the Ministers, but can you tell me what you think should be at the top of his in-tray?
Dr Pryor: I would return to my issue of join up between the different agencies and parts of Defra. They are expert in their own field. It feels to me like they are increasingly working in a complementary way. There are a few gaps between them. Things can easily fall between stools. We felt things like street trees have been rather overlooked, because they are not really Forestry Commission, Fera, or even Defra, so we are very worried about that. It does not feel as though they are really collaborative. It does not feel you get that crossdisciplinary approach that you do with, say, academics working together. Therefore, it is ensuring there is real efficiency, join-up and integrated delivery.
Harry Cotterell: I have nothing to add to that.
Don Pendergrast: I do not either; I would agree.
Q230 Neil Parish: We talked quite a bit to start with about ash dieback, and I would like to very much agree with Mr Cotterell’s comments that in many parts of Somerset you have hedgerows where there were a lot of elms; they have got Dutch elm. Now we have the problem with ash trees, and it is a real problem. The Government, naturally, has said, basically, ‘Cut down the small trees, keep the bigger ones and see what happens to them’. Do you think that is a right policy or should there be something else that should be done?
Dr Pryor: I would certainly concur with that. That is the line we have taken on the National Trust’s own estate and it is probably more vigorous and more, if you like, rigorous than some owners, who are prepared to wait and watch. There is a difficult decision to be made. At the moment, we are facing this site of 12yearold trees; do we take them all out, even though 90% of them are in good health? At the moment, we are just going to take out the diseased ones straight away and then watch and monitor, but this is where I am very concerned that we are coming up with prescriptions without observing and monitoring closely enough to see how the situation unfolds, because it is not doing what we have been told it would do.
Q231 Neil Parish: Are we doing enough to investigate those trees that are resistant, which we are hoping for, are we not?
Dr Pryor: Again, I am pleased to see an experimental trial of different provenances and origins to see what resistance is there. I am much more interested in us looking at what is surviving of our native ash and working on that rather than an expensive designed trial. I feel we have a lot to learn from what has survived within our area. It is very interesting to see how few of the mature trees are being affected, and maybe it is about mycorrhizae; maybe it is about the genetic diversity. However, it would be nice to see a bit more interest from the agencies in terms of looking, observing and learning from that.
Neil Parish: So you do not think we are looking enough at the moment.
Dr Pryor: Absolutely.
Don Pendergrast: When you look across the continent, in Denmark they are talking about 10% and now it is down to 2% resistance, so there has to be a concern that we are looking a little bit for a needle in a haystack here. I agree with what Simon said in the sense that we do need to be doing better monitoring and looking for resistance, not just in the forest areas but across the broader landscape. However, we will also need the trial work there as well, because in terms of being someone with a background in research of this kind of thing, it is going to come from looking at both of those, if we are going to identify. That is not going to solve the fact that we are going to have a long-term landscape issue. With the older trees there has to be a concern that we are going to see a deterioration over the next 10 to 15 years.
Harry Cotterell: We are very pleased that the Government and agencies have not been particularly prescriptive about this, because it would have all sorts of impacts on management, costs and markets. We have members who are doing all sorts of different things, from sanitation felling of mature trees while they are still relatively healthy down to leaving them and seeing what happens and I think that is probably the best way to find out what works, and we will see going forward. I am sure in a few years’ time it will become clear.
Q232 Neil Parish: That is right, because on the continent they have found out that some trees will survive quite a long time. Therefore, it is a case of whether we go out and cut them all down, or whether we wait and see. I suppose the only trouble is while they are alive and have lots of disease they are spreading that disease.
Dr Pryor: This is what was, in a sense, a surprise: that we have trees that have had the disease for 10 years and it has spread half a kilometre, so the rate of spread from a 10yearold plantation has not been as rapid as we thought. Anything we can do to slow the spread of that impact-ecologically, economically, or culturally-has to be a good thing.
Q233 Neil Parish: Is the Government’s balance of priorities correct or should other diseases be receiving more attention? When we were up in York recently, it was almost frightening to see the number of diseases out there and the potential for it, so has the Government got it right, or should it be looking somewhere else or what?
Don Pendergrast: If it is okay for the NFU to speak, we are concerned about this. It is important that we deal with the risk from Chalara. The risk register is very important to the whole process of identifying the number of risks, but we do want to see that there is a balance. We may be looking at a broad landscape issue here, but if we had an issue in the potato sector or some of the other plant sectors, you could have devastating consequences from outbreaks-I have referred to the spotted wing drosophila a number of times. We could have massive outbreak problems there, not be able to manage them and that would be devastating for orchards that have been long-term established, and for businesses; we have seen the impact on the horticultural sector when ash movement has been closed down. There is nothing going to bring that back for those businesses now; they have been severely impacted. Therefore, there needs to be a balance of priorities. The risk register is important to that, but it does need to balance economic, environmental and social aspects.
Q234 Neil Parish: The French are suffering and have a real problem with the plane trees. I do not know whether we can stop anybody coming from France here, but seriously, what do we do about this? Do we just sit here, rather like we did with ash dieback, and say, "Oh, now we have got it", and there is a hell of a fuss about it but we have probably had it for quite a long time? What do we do?
Harry Cotterell: Public awareness has been raised significantly by Chalara, and we have definitely been trying to widen the brief into the worst things. Phytophthora is a worse commercial disease. It will not have anything like the landscape impact, but it is a worse commercial disease for UK forestry than Chalara is. We also have the Asian longhorn beetle. The impact of that, because it is multispecies, could be devastating. We have red band needle blight in the east-particularly, Corsican pine is very vulnerable. There are diseases all over and we were delighted to hear the Government’s Secretary of State raising the priority that he gives these problems.
Q235 Neil Parish: Are Defra or Fera giving farmers and landowners enough information about the potential of these diseases, do you think?
Don Pendergrast: One of the things that is suggested in the tree and plant health report does suggest there needs to be some sort of central resource that is easy to access and can provide more information. There is a lot of reliance on the levy boards and the agricultural sector to get that information out there, but there is more work needed-and it probably goes back to this Chief Plant Health Officer’s role-to make sure that communication is improved. Some issues are recognised, but there are areas where maybe there is not a level of recognition, where maybe a specialist scientist has picked something up. There need to be better ways of bringing that together and that goes back again to that role and how it works.
Dr Pryor: I would say that communication to the public is very important. Communication within the sector could be better. It would very nice to be up to speed always about what is emerging and what has been found, and it feels a little bit like some of that is kept back; we would like it really open. We are all keen to help, and the more we are informed the better.
I will just say a word about the balance between the different diseases. Looking within tree health and the four big ones for us, we just feel that there is not quite the right balance and the right rational approach. We have Phytophthora and oak processionary moth, and it is felt that the Department has taken quite a heavyhanded approach to those, with enforcement notices, plant health orders and a lot of money thrown at them. Whereas, I have to say, with Chalara and acute oak decline it has felt much more handsoff, and I am not sure that really reflects the value to the nation and the concerns. I am absolutely with Harry in terms of the commercial impact of Phytophthora, but we have spent £23 million or £24 million; have we carefully enough evaluated how effective that has been? Have we thought long and hard about it and are we learning those lessons, in terms of the other diseases? A bit more of an open discussion with us about the resources that go in and the priorities would be really welcome.
Harry Cotterell: On Phytophthora, the real concern is that it can jump the species. It has been found in Douglas fir and Sitka spruce, and that is basically commercial forestry in the UK, as well as our broad leaves and rhododendrons and all the rest of it. Therefore, the prescription for Phytophthora is going to have to be different from Chalara, which is isolated to the single species.
Just one other point on what we should be utilising. Protected zone status, which is what has been implemented in relation to the sweet chestnut by the Secretary of State recently, is the only real defence that we have. Plant material that is going to be planted in this country should only come from areas that are diseasefree, and we have to be brutal in implementing that; we really have.
Neil Parish: We do the same with animals. We would not take diseased animals and then take them somewhere else, so it seems absolutely logical to do the same with trees.
Q236 Chair: Does it not seem extraordinary, though, having known that Chalara fraxinea existed in Poland and Denmark, that we were exporting seeds to be grown as saplings in those countries and then reimported, knowing that they had that disease? It just beggars common sense that they would do that.
Harry Cotterell: The plant passport system has been fundamentally flawed. It is not really within our area of expertise, but it does need to be totally overhauled and revamped.
Q237 Richard Drax: You have already touched on the protected zones, Mr Cotterell, but as far as trade is concerned, the Government, as you have said, has already tightened some controls. Has it gone far enough, and is there more it could do, bearing in mind that we know the pests come in through cars and furniture? It is a very difficult thing to stop, is it not, so what more can be done than the Government is doing?
Dr Pryor: If we look at the tree diseases, most of those have come in on the back of the plant trade, so while there are a million different sources and routes into the country, plugging some of the biggest ones first. Speaking as the National Trust, one of the biggest gardeners and purchasers of plants, there are real concerns about the horticultural trade in garden plants, because they come in soil and in pots, etc, so, yes, a much more robust approach to the plant passport. We were interested the other day to find US Department of Agriculture inspectors over in this country checking out nurseries here before they would accept any imports to the US. Maybe we ought to be going out to the source, if we cannot rely on their own controls. If it is a new trade route, we should be out there checking that out before we allow it in.
Don Pendergrast: Within the proposed plant health regulations coming from Europe, we are seeing that concept of new trades being identified and being closed down until we have a level of understanding of the risks that are being identified. There are new trades being developed all the time, and the ornamental horticultural sector in particular is a key one, where soil is coming into the country. Soil is a big risk area, in terms of what it can bring in. Even at this stage, before those regulations are rolled out across Europe, more work needs to be done by the Government to look at how we deal with those new trades-an investigation of those new trades-even if the powers are not there at the moment to control them.
Q238 Richard Drax: Should bans be brought in, for example?
Don Pendergrast: It would be difficult to do that at the moment. It goes back to a level of investigation, working across Europe and, possibly, across the world, if necessary, with the other plant health services to understand what the real risks are and what information is available. Going back to Phytophthora, it is hard to understand why we did not gain more information and look to find more resource and information from the member states that were already experiencing problems with it ahead of seeing the outbreak in the UK.
Harry Cotterell: I have nothing to add.
Q239 Richard Drax: You know that the Secretary has said that a new regulation is going to be made so far as the import of plane and sweet chestnut from areas where there is a risk of disease is concerned. What is your view of these proposals and, again, what further action, if any, is required?
Harry Cotterell: We very much welcome the proposal to apply protected-zone status to sweet chestnut. Since the UK is the only place, as far as I know, that is a protected zone, it basically is an import ban, to all intents and purposes. I think it is very difficult to go any further than that, because of the trade rules in Europe as they happen to be. I do not think plane trees are quite that far down the road yet, and, I have to say, plane trees, being a predominantly urban tree, do not excite our members particularly much. However, they are still a significant issue, and I suspect a plane tree disease would have more newsworthiness nationally than probably Chalara has, because of the danger of them falling on people. There is a requirement to look out there, find out what is around and then to start bringing in protected zone regulations as early as possible.
Don Pendergrast: I would concur completely. There is an opportunity there, certainly in terms of protected zone status, where we can use it, but we have to have good justification to do that, which goes back to my comment about gaining information and understanding the risks.
Dr Pryor: It is a good example of the Government taking the lead quickly and doing exactly the right thing.
Q240 Chair: Just before we release you, you have mentioned a little bit about solutions in the European Union. The Secretary of State indicated at the party conference in Manchester-and it is on the Defra website, so it must be true-that the EU is looking to impose restrictions on the movement of larch trees. Are you concerned by the length of time it takes, as was the case with ash trees, before these movement orders across the European Union come into effect?
Harry Cotterell: Someone may correct me if I am wrong, but I think this is going to be applied against us. It is more likely that we will lose protected zone status for larch. If one is realistic about the way that you stop Phytophthora ramorum spreading into France, it is probably to fell an extraordinarily large area of larch out of southern England to stop it spreading. If one is realistic about dealing with this, we are probably going to have to face some pretty unpalatable requirements over the years ahead.
Dr Pryor: The timing is obviously a concern. The one that really frightened us is the fact that the Chalara thing was all held up for several years simply because people could not agree on what this organism was called and what it was named and we can only have orders on things that relate to a widely agreed named organism. Everyone knew the syndrome and knew the problem, and it is those sorts of bureaucratic holdups that are deeply frustrating.
Q241 Chair: Do you think we have learned from that experience at EU level to speed things up?
Dr Pryor: I am not confident we have learned yet.
Don Pendergrast: I am concerned as well. Just looking at Armillaria fungi, there was a recognition there that a lot of the information and supporting information was in Chinese, and in the risk assessment process we were asked if we should look at this and translate the Chinese information. I would have thought that decision should have already been taken to begin to gather the information, so I am concerned that we are not learning the lessons on that front.
Q242 Richard Drax: We have some members of some conservation and environmental groups following you, who I assume you work with: the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, the Woodland Trust and others. Do you concur, broadly, with the organisations in directions for the way forward, or are there big differences in what should be done? Are you all in the same bed, if I dare use that expression, and agree with the way forward?
Dr Pryor: With Chalara, the development of the management plan-working with the agencies and with Defra-felt to me one of the best examples of the whole sector and all interests working well together and working well with Defra. It felt as though Defra was really listening and wanting to learn from the pragmatism of what could work out on the ground. Therefore, certainly, I think you will find on most of these there is very strong agreement. We might have some tensions around the priorities and the funding streams, but there is very good collaboration.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed for being with us and being so generous with your time.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr Hilary Allison, Policy Director, Woodland Trust, Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape, The Wildlife Trusts, and Mike Wood, UK Forestry Policy Officer, RSPB, gave evidence.
Q243 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome. Can I thank you very much indeed for joining us and participating in our inquiry-Mr Wilkinson, two days running. If I could ask each of you to introduce yourselves for the record, starting with Dr Allison. Just say who you are and where you are from, if you would.
Dr Allison: Certainly. My name is Hilary Allison. I am the Policy Director for the Woodland Trust.
Paul Wilkinson: Good afternoon and thank you for the invitation. Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape at The Wildlife Trusts.
Mike Wood: Hello. I am Mike Wood from the RSPB. I am UK Forestry Policy Officer.
Q244 Chair: Again, if you agree, no need to speak, but if you disagree, please say it as loudly as you possibly wish to. Can I just ask one or two general questions looking at the agencies involved? Are you impressed by the level of cooperation and coordination amongst the agencies, such as Natural England, the Forestry Commission and Fera, as regards to tree and plant health?
Dr Allison: One of the interesting things about the way that tree diseases are being dealt with is that probably action has happened despite the multitude of agencies, rather than necessarily because of them. There are a lot of different players taking part: the FC is involved in forest trees and timber responsibilities, Fera has plant health and garden plant responsibilities, and Natural England has biodiversity and conservation responsibilities. There are also responsibilities of other Government Departments as well, such as the Department for Communities and Local Government, which also looks after nonwoodland trees, plus we have a matrix of country groups and devolved responsibilities as well. Therefore, the map of participants in the struggle against tree disease is quite a complicated one, and it sometimes confuses us, so I suspect it confuses them sometimes too.
Paul Wilkinson: I agree. The priority for us is about not necessarily just seeing the wood but seeing the trees and the woodlands as whole systems, and that means that there are complicated relationships. From our perspective, we are quite keen for the solutions to the problems of pest and tree disease to not be worse than the cause. What we want to see is a greater role, potentially, for the nature conservation bodies-Natural England-and we are not necessarily seeing them having a terribly strong voice in the debate at the moment.
Mike Wood: I would agree with that. I have been quite disappointed that with Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and CCW-now Natural Resources Wales-the nature conservation aspects of this issue were not fully considered, particularly as you have to remember it is over 20 years since forestry policy in Britain has been for sustainable benefits and a range of things, including biodiversity. I think the Government’s own biodiversity voice was not properly heard.
There is another point that I want to make about the linkup between agencies and parts of Government. For example, with the Expert Taskforce, one of the things I found disappointing was they did not seem to draw enough on a lot of the expertise that rests within the Forestry Commission. There was great fanfare that they were bringing lots of outside experts in-great-but they did not seem to draw enough on some of the practical experience and some of the research that rests within Government agencies, mainly Forest Research, which I found baffling.
Q245 Chair: Following on that, could I ask one question in three parts? Do you believe that there are enough tree and plant experts, including academics and experts in the field as well as in industry? Do you believe that there are enough resources going into identifying new threats to tree and plant health? Equally, do you think there are enough resources going into how to tackle the fungal diseases so identified?
Mike Wood: One of our concerns has been about how priorities have been set. First of all, it is which diseases are chosen for study, for research, for examination and potential control measures. Even within particular diseases you can take a different angle. For instance, on Phytophthora ramorum, we do not think there has been enough effort looking at the effects on heather and bilberry and those native habitats, rather than just looking at the impact on larch. I am not knocking the commercial larch issue. I am just saying there are other aspects. If you look at the Forestry Commission’s website, there is a whole list of plant diseases they are concerned about and then they pick from those which ones they want to examine and relate to control measures. It is the relative priorities of which ones you pick and then how you address them we have been concerned about.
Going into the particular expertise, yes, we are very concerned about expertise, not just in terms of the numbers of people, but their technical background and their work on how that relates to biodiversity and other aspects. I am not saying plant health is just a biodiversity problem, but it has a particular biodiversity issue that we do not think is being examined properly. One of the interesting things about Chalara and red band needle blight is that we have been exposed more to the technical experts. I enjoy talking with them and exchanging information at stakeholder groups, but part of the time you do feel that you are dragging them away from their main job. They are very thinly stretched, and some of them are retired. Some of your written evidence was very interesting from some of the retired plant pathologists making points about lack of expertise now, and capacity, particularly in forest pathology, not just general plant pathology. It is not the same as working with potatoes.
Dr Allison: There are probably only literally half a dozen practising forest pathologists in the UK at the moment, and only really Bangor and Aberdeen with fully functioning forestry departments, added to which is the pressures that Forest Research come under in terms of expenditure cuts and the increasing number of diseases that are appearing. They are incredibly stretched and we know that firsthand in terms of our work with them on citizen science projects, where they are really being stretched to be genuine partners in some very exciting work.
If I could just quickly switch to the third part of your question, if I may, which was about the resources to tackle disease, I just wanted to make one particular point. The timing of the end of the current Rural Development Programme is very interesting and probably could not have come at a worse time in terms of our ability to be able to deploy resources towards the tackling of tree diseases. Obviously, things come to an end on 31 December 2013, and the new Rural Development Programme priorities are only going to be consulted on, I believe, imminently, in the next few days. We are in a situation where we need resources being channelled through EU and matched Treasury funding, through the Woodland Grant system and Woodland Improvement Grants and other capital sources of funding, and yet we do not have, in 2014, a fully functioning RDP programme of grants to be able to tackle that. In many ways, that gap-that transition year-could not have come at a worse time. We have no new woodland creation grants in 2014. We have no new woodland management agreements able to be entered into in 2014. We have £500,000 for capital expenditure to be able to tackle tree diseases, which has been put forward by the Forestry Commission, which does not seem to me to be sufficient to address the scale of the task. That is a particular point about the whole resourcing issue in terms of dealing with disease, let alone the resources needed to identify new threats.
Paul Wilkinson: I will not add anything further.
Q246 Neil Parish: Mr Wood, you talked about the Expert Taskforce and the report. I want to ask the panel two parts to my question. Firstly, what are your views on the actions taken to date in response to the report? Secondly, what did you think of the report? Did you like it, or were there other things that you would have liked to have seen in it?
Mike Wood: I will start with the second part first. The report was useful and good as far as it went. I felt it missed some useful things. I have already mentioned that it was maybe lacking a little bit in addressing some of the biodiversity interests. Also, one of the things that was rather disappointing was that it did not start getting into some of the practical issues related to how forestry is regulated and run in the UK. For example, one of the things that could be done with the grant schemes in the four countries is you could help define what biosecurity is, to help woodland owners. There is something called the Forest Reproductive Material regulations, which are not sufficiently robust to give people an idea on traceability. The current situation is that you could buy some trees, and they could go away on holiday and come back, and you would not know they had been away on holiday, which is what happened with Chalara. It is possible to tweak those regulations so there is better traceability. These are not magic bullets, but they would help to deal with some of the issues. It was very good at looking at some of the international issues and some of the technical disease issues, but it did not touch on that.
The other thing is, apart from missing out some of the key biodiversity aspects, it also was a bit too Chalarafocused, which is not surprising, considering where it came from.
Q247 Neil Parish: What about the actions that we have or have not taken in the report?
Mike Wood: It is really wait to see, in terms of the risk register. On the surface, it sounds quite positive. We are waiting to see some proposals. We are not in the stakeholder group, so we have not seen any of the detail. The devil will be in the detail of how it works, and it does raise issues about whether they are going to horizon-scan properly outside these shores. There is also the point I made previously about priorities: will they pick on diseases, pests and pathogens that have a range of impacts on a range of species related to wildlife, as well as focusing very much on commercial timber production?
Paul Wilkinson: Generally speaking, the report exists, it recognises the significant public interest in the Chalara issue, and it is great that the Secretary of State has raised that as a key priority now; that is obviously important within the Department. It is a balanced report; it contains some really good stuff. The risk register is obviously a key focus. What we would like to see within that, in terms of the mitigation measures, though, is to have a sense around the potential impacts of applying some of those mitigation measures. We want to have an ecological dimension to that-an ecosystem dimension-to make sure, as I mentioned earlier, that the cure that we use is not worse than the cause. We need to focus quite a lot on that mitigation. The fact that there are additional resources now, in terms of a Chief Plant Health Officer, is obviously key, and what we would be looking for him or her to do is to drive that process and also the broader strategic thinking around plant and tree health across the board within the UK, and horizon-scanning beyond.
Dr Allison: We were positive about the publication of the taskforce report. It is very authoritative and very thorough and detailed. As my colleague said, it probably focuses quite a lot on processes and policy rather than necessarily on conservation strategy, which is perhaps hardly surprising.
There are a couple of things. The first two recommendations around the risk register and the Chief Plant Health Officer are relatively discrete, and Defra is making good process on both of those. It is, in a sense, recommendations 3 to 8 that are the most interesting, the most longterm and the most difficult, perhaps, to tackle, and where a sense of long-term momentum and commitment to delivering them is going to be very necessary. We will be watching out for those.
If I can just say a couple of things about the risk register, which my colleagues have not particularly mentioned so far, just to add to their comments, we are hoping to see a consultation draft of the register. We do not know what is in it yet, but we would be very keen to make sure there is horizon-scanning for pests and diseases that are not yet present in the UK, so horizonscanning for what is yet to come out there, and, secondly, to understand the idea of composite risk. We are not looking at risk from the point of view of an individual species and an individual risk, but looking at what happens when combinations of risks occur at the same time. That is critical.
Chair: We stand adjourned and will come back as quickly as we can, if you can bear with us.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Chair: Just to let colleagues know who did not hear, we have just had the election of the Deputy Speaker, and I am delighted to announce that Mrs Eleanor Laing has won a very hotly contested contest. You will be pleased to know in the public gallery that there were no spoiled ballot papers. It would have been very embarrassing if there had been any spoiled ballot papers. I am sure we would all want to wish our new Deputy Speaker well in her position. If we could now continue, and I thank you for your patience and allowing us to go and do our democratic duty.
Q248 Ms Ritchie: I want to ask a question about the risk register. Dr Allison has already referred to it, but the question is how effective you think the risk register will be in identifying and combating disease issues.
Mike Wood: It is difficult to say, because we have not seen the details, unfortunately. As far as we are concerned, it relates to whether they consider the right range of pests and diseases, including ones that will affect biodiversity, and that they look quite wide geographically. We need to see the detail, so, unfortunately, it is difficult to answer that.
Paul Wilkinson: I will let Hilary supplement the points that she was making just before the bell, potentially. However, looking slightly further ahead, having welcomed the creation of the risk register, it is about sustaining the effort and ensuring that there is continued support for it. As Mike said, we need to make sure that the detail is right, but we also need it not to just sit on the shelf. It needs to be a useful document that evolves and develops over time. We need to see some forward-looking commitment to how Government views the risk register in the future and how it might be used, but it is about involving the right stakeholders now in ensuring that it is as robust and useful as possible, and then keeping the pressure on in making sure that it is then used.
Dr Allison: Just to elaborate, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Hopefully, there will be things on the risk register like the bronze birch borer, which we know is coming our way, which is very partial to European birch. It is not here yet, but hopefully, if that is on the risk register, it will be at least a sign that the register is looking beyond our borders and there are other things there that are, in a sense, almost known unknowns and unknown unknowns.
The other key point, in terms of the usefulness of the register, is the point that was made about the extent to which mitigating actions will be identified and the extent to which the risk register will be able to be used in a way that does not just look at linear risks-so you have pestriskimpactaction, and then you go onto the next line and you look at the same thing, and you look at each of these in isolation. The point is that probably some of the worst situations that we could envisage in terms of risk developing are where we have multiple infestations of pests and diseases at the same time. We already have Phytophthora marching up the western seaboard of the UK. We have ash dieback on the eastern side, and we have other pockets of diseases. We have acute oak decline in the middle of the country. Imagine if we had three, four, five, or half a dozen more diseases all happening simultaneously, and the interactions between those different diseases in terms of how woodlands and their ecology and their biodiversity would be affected. The risk register has to prove itself that it is able to at least use some of that information to come up with genuinely useful mitigating actions.
Q249 Ms Ritchie: The next question is about the review of legislation. The Government intends to review the regulation on plant health and forestry. What do you think should be the priorities in that area?
Dr Allison: That is a very interesting question. We have all had to become very rapid experts in the quite obscure field, for us at least, of plant health regulations. One of the pleas that I have made on several occasions is for the few people who understand the EU plant health regulations to provide organisations such as ourselves, the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB, who have good European connections, with some clear briefings about the key things that need to be improved in terms of EU plant health regulations, and therefore to allow us to help support efforts of the Government to influence for the better the outcome of that consultation at the moment. In a sense, give us the bullets and we will fire them on behalf of Government, who perhaps do not feel able to do that themselves.
There are a couple of things that I would say. Probably you need also to think about whether we want to concentrate our efforts on the source of plant material coming in, whether we want to concentrate on the points of entry, or whether we want to concentrate on the points of arrival. There is a really interesting debate to be had about that and I am not quite sure where I would put my own money at the moment, but there is certainly something about the points of origin of material, particularly nonEU material coming into the EU itself. Other than that, I am afraid I cannot give you chapter and verse because it is quite an obscure area, and I am not an expert in it.
Paul Wilkinson: I do not think I can add a great deal to that, if I am perfectly honest.
Mike Wood: I have a few comments to make. First of all, as the RSPB, we are very interested in the draft EU instrument on plant health and invasive nonnative species: how many different species there are going to be included in which one, and how that is going to be selected; that is all to be worked out and developed. However, you will not be surprised to hear me say, we are concerned that the species selected are properly considered species that could cause biodiversity impacts in the UK and Europe.
The other point I would make, which I have made before, is that you certainly need a connection from the EU plant health through to some of the practical regulation that goes on in UK forestry. I mentioned the Forest Reproductive Material regulations; there is scope to tweak those to enhance traceability, so people know what they are getting. You need to certainly come up with a companion system for the horticulture landscape trade, which is not in place. Also, some of the guidance that goes to landowners and something called the UK Forestry Standard, which is a Government minimum standard that goes with conditional grants-connecting biosecurity into that. There are some tweaks that need to be done. Certainly, you need to sort out the plant trade aspect and also traceability into the UK and specifications, so that people can specify biosecure stock, where they can, and know where the stock has been and comes from.
Q250 Mrs LewellBuck: This might have already been touched on by you, Mike, in your last answer, and was a question asked of the previous panel. I am just curious what this panel thinks should be the new Chief Plant Health Officer’s number one priority.
Dr Allison: I do not have a great deal to add to the answers that were provided by the previous panel, except to say that the coordination of efforts across organisations and administrations, so that there is a clear line of sight and a UK responsibility for certain elements of plant health policy, is pretty critical. That is a big issue.
Paul Wilkinson: I would add that their first job should be to look around them to see which expertise they need to potentially draw on, and also what resources they are being provided with individually to do the huge job they have been asked to do. We would want to make sure that that officer is not a stand-alone person, and that they are provided with the support and resources they need to do the job.
Mike Wood: I would say the priority is related to getting on top of the scientific background to plant trade, both into the EU and also within the UK, and really understanding what the scientific basis to all of this is, understanding the supply chains, what the risks are and what could be done technically to address this.
The other thing is I would really want that person, who is currently in post, to properly consider and understand biodiversity, and understand UK forestry, landscape management, landscape design, and those kinds of aspects. Defra is a Department very much based on agriculture and animal health, not forestry and amenity; it has some biodiversity responsibility. For that person to be effective, they do need to take on board new information, new regulatory mechanisms and practices, as well as some new science.
Mrs LewellBuck: A busy time for them then.
Mike Wood: Yes.
Q251 Richard Drax: What is your opinion of the action taken so far to combat ash dieback disease?
Dr Allison: From about October 2012, there has been a tremendous degree of energy and activity, which we are very supportive of. One could debate whether that was the case before October 2012. I would echo a point made by Harry Cotterell earlier in saying that the development of the Chalara management plan has been a very constructive process. It has drawn on the expertise of a wide range of people within the sector, and there is a great deal of expertise out there. Certainly the most recent version of the plan, if it is going to be revised for March 2014, does bear the hallmark of a lot of debate and a lot of constructive input from the sector, in terms of a pragmatic view on use of the maps that were created through the modelling process; identifying the right courses of action; leaving mature trees as they are; and focusing on the removal of young infected trees, which seem to be the most clear vector of infections. That has all been good.
Probably the key thing to say is that we cannot go through a similar hugely intensive process of collaboration and in-depth detail for every single disease and creating management plans and response plans for every single disease going forward. There has to be a better way of dealing with that going forward, and we are quite pleased that Defra has agreed to broaden the consultation and stakeholder engagement to look at tree diseases in the round, rather than focusing purely on ash dieback, important though it is. However, there are, as you say, a lot of other diseases out there that are going to have equally important, if not even larger impacts than ash, heaven forfend.
Q252 Richard Drax: You have jumped onto the next question about whether the balance of priorities is correct, and whether other diseases should be receiving more attention. I think you are hinting at that, are you not?
Dr Allison: Yes, indeed.
Richard Drax: However, I think you are saying that you cannot have these massive management-style programmes for all of them; is that right?
Dr Allison: Absolutely not. I was personally involved, as indeed colleagues around the table were, in various elements of the consultation around what we should do about Chalara, and that was enormously time-consuming. It occupied large amounts of my time between October and March, and if you multiply that by six, there just is not sufficient capacity within the sector-from the private sector, the NGO sector, the horticultural trade sector-to be able to support those kinds of processes. That bit needs to be revised.
Q253 Richard Drax: Mr Wilkinson, bearing in mind what Dr Allison has said, what do you think the Government can do? Does it have to prioritise particular diseases? How is it going to cope with all of these problems?
Paul Wilkinson: One of the reasons we welcomed the Chalara plan was that we felt they had taken a precautionary, ecologyled and sciencebased approach. They have to retain that science and evidencebased approach to this work, and that is looking across the range of diseases. Despite the reservations and the real concerns that we have around capacity, maintaining that stakeholder engagement and approach will broaden the scope of what they are focusing on, because that was one of the real strengths of the way in which Chalara was tackled. Obviously, it was all over the newspapers; it was a huge high-profile incident and something that had to be seen to be being dealt with in the most stringent ways. Therefore, we all downed tools or picked up tools, or however you want to describe it, in order to engage. However, we need to make that stakeholder engagement more sophisticated now and develop it. That would be the key for us: maintaining the focus on the science, on the precautionary approach, not doing things now that will have damaging effects-having a "no regrets" policy, basically.
Mike Wood: In terms of the Chalara action plan, I agree with Dr Allison about the amount of time and capacity it has taken from people who were involved with it. If you go back a year, they were having to come to a ministerial summit and, basically, help to educate a Government Department about not cutting big trees down or whatever. There was a need for Government to skill up and understand some of the issues that are in quite a small bunch of technical practitioners and scientists and people involved in the issue. Things have moved on and improved dramatically, but Government needs to make best use of the expertise and goodwill inside and outside its agencies, landowners and people like us.
In terms of prioritising how to address the range of things out there or that could be coming to our shores, this is where the risk register comes in and I do have concerns that it is not necessarily going to pick up on either some of the issues that affect biodiversity or on some of the right species. That is where considering the species in a group is quite helpful. For example, with Dothistroma needle blight-red band needle blight-we are very concerned about the effects on native pine wood in Scotland. That could also be hammered underneath by Phytophthora ramorum attacking bilberry, which is a food for capercaillie. That is a good example of where we are not even convinced that these two diseases will be looked at in that way for those issues, but also the interaction between the two.
One of the points I do have a concern about, going back to your question about Chalara, is that the first Defra plan was uncertain about what Defra’s role was at a UK level. The subsequent plan was a bit more realistic, and there is an allIreland Chalara plan, and there is one for Wales and one for Scotland, which picked up on country priorities related to different issues for the different woodland resource and policy priorities. It is a complex issue where the devolved Administrations have a role in issuing plant health notices, grants and what-have-you, but also Defra has a very important role in funding Forestry Commission research for Great Britain, which is a support to Northern Ireland in terms of the technical expertise on Chalara and other tree health diseases, so it is a complex role. Defra does not just have an English role; it has an important UK technical lead role. As well as that, it needs coordinated action from a biological perspective at that scale.
Q254 Mrs Glindon: In a recent memorandum to the Committee, the RSPB suggests that some disease control measures could have a negative impact. Could I ask you to elaborate on what impacts there might be on birds or wider biodiversity?
Mike Wood: That was very much a plea that when Government is considering measures to control these diseases it does not just consider what impacts the disease would have on economic, social and environmental things, but that the control measures themselves could have an impact. I can give an English example, but recently in Scotland there was a trial done for aerial spraying of fungicides against red band needle blight. We were very concerned, working with the Scottish Government, to make sure that they considered what the biodiversity impacts of that spraying would be, as well as trying to work out, if that disease spread in the Scottish pine, what the effects on wildlife would be. Similarly, in southwest England, we have been involved with case work for large control of Phytophthora ramorum and have been concerned about the timing of some of the tree removal and the sanitation felling that could cause disturbance to nesting birds. We have worked with the Forestry Commission and others, giving them advice on that. It is a tricky area, but it needs to be considered in policy and regulation of plant health.
Q255 Chair: In terms of antidote, is that what you are talking about-that it was a control, an antidote?
Mike Wood: No. Currently, with Phytophthora ramorum tree-felling is going on-
Q256 Chair: Did you look at aerial spraying?
Mike Wood: No, that was one particular case where Forestry Commission Scotland were talking about aerial spraying for one disease and others, like Butterfly Conservation, are concerned about the impacts on butterflies and plants.
Chair: What did they conclude on the aerial spraying?
Mike Wood: They have just done the trial.
Chair: It would be very helpful if we could see the results of that.
Mike Wood: Yes. I can send you some contact information on that. That was on red band needle blight.
Chair: That would be helpful.
Q257 Neil Parish: Mr Wood, I think you have more or less said that a lot of this is a conundrum, because you have to try to take action in order to clear the disease from the trees, and if that affects birds nesting or whatever that is an issue. Also, if we could find an effective spray, especially if it is a fungicide, it probably should not have too much effect on the biodiversity otherwise. Do you have experts within the RSPB to look at this or what?
Mike Wood: We have some expertise, and we have been asking external experts for opinions on that, and it does vary between diseases in different circumstances, in different woodland types and whatever. I cannot generalise across the whole of plant health and all woodland types in the UK. You have to look at the ecology for each situation.
Q258 Chair: Can I just ask: there is no kneejerk reaction from the RSPB, in principle, to an aerial spray, say, an antidote for Chalara fraxinea?
Mike Wood: I refer to the answer from the CLA earlier, saying that we would have heard about these things before. We want to hear the science and understand what the impacts are, positive and negative, on the environment. Therefore, there is no kneejerk reaction, but we need to understand what these things are, how they work, and what the benefits and disbenefits are.
Chair: Are there any other responses to Mary’s question?
Paul Wilkinson: You may already be going on to talk about this, but it is about the connection between forest policy, more broadly about the Government’s ambitions with the England forest strategy to increase the area of woodland and a landscape-scale approach to restoring our woodlands, and how that connects to this area of plant and tree health. At the moment, these two things appear to be totally siloed and disconnected. You were talking about the impacts of certain treatments, and our take is that this is being done in isolation. We need to look at improving the resilience of our natural environment and our woods and forests more generally, and how we make those environments more resilient to these different shocks. At the moment, it feels as if these things are being done in various silos within Government between Departments.
Dr Allison: If I could add one further point, particularly about the Phytophthora ramorum situation, there are probably nearly 14,000 hectares of infected larch in Great Britain, and most of those are either about to be or are subject to statutory plant health notices, which, in a sense, trump the forestry legislation, and do not necessarily require landowners to put trees back in place once the felling has happened. From that point of view, we are quite concerned about the process of sensitive restoration of ancient woods that have been damaged by the planting of conifers over many years-and that includes larch, even though it is quite a benign conifer, if you like. The opportunity for that restoration of valuable ancient woodland habitats is going to be lost, because there is going to be no requirement to restock, either very slowly, which is the best way of restoring ancient woodland, or even doing it in a much more fasttrack kind of approach, so we have particular concerns. At one of our sites in south Wales, at Wentwood forest, we announced a couple of weeks ago that we are felling 80 hectares of larch. There is no requirement on us to restock. There is no grant for us to restock available from the Welsh Assembly, but we will do that, because we are a conservation body and we want to see that habitat restored to its former glory. However, that will not necessarily be the case for many other woodland owners, who will take the opportunity, perhaps, for a complete change of land use.
Q259 Richard Drax: You were here for the trade questions and the same goes to you. Just to remind you, the first one was about the Government tightening controls for some tree imports: has it gone far enough and is the action effective?
Mike Wood: We certainly welcome them. In terms of the effectiveness, I do not think they will be the total solution, because plants and diseases will get in other ways. It is welcome as far as it goes, but we have concerns about this new EU plant regulation and needing to have better control and traceability of plant material. That is an important part of it, but it is not the whole picture.
Q260 Richard Drax: Protected zones: do you agree with those?
Mike Wood: They could work. I am sorry I am being so vague, but it depends on the species, on the woodland type, the disease and how the disease is working.
Q261 Richard Drax: Mr Wilkinson, can you take it any further? Has the Government been effective, has it gone far enough, and, if not, what would you suggest it should or could be doing?
Paul Wilkinson: There is a difference between the short-term fixes and the longterm strategy. There have been some shortterm fixes around particular bans; we have seen recent announcement around bans on other species. However, our focus is on what the longterm strategy is, and that is where we want to engage. It is about looking at the range of threats and, as Hilary mentioned earlier, looking at the source, and as an island nation, thinking about how we stop things arriving in the first place, not necessarily just trying to put up the barriers once they have arrived. That would be my view on that.
Dr Allison: Just briefly, we welcome the imposition of bans on imports of certain species, because although imports of contaminated plants are one vector by which diseases arrive in this country, and there are many others, it is important to do what you can about the things that you are able to affect. Clearly, reducing the amount of infected material that comes in through legitimate trade is critical and important. However, I would endorse what Paul has said, in the sense that these are shortterm fixes, and there is a much bigger question here about the resilience of the woods that we have in the UK, which are historically very fragmented, they are very small, and they are not joined up. They are very species poor in terms of the tree species; there are five species that make up 80% of the conifer woodlands in the UK, and there are about five species that make up 65% of the broadleaf woodlands in the UK, so we are very vulnerable to the fact that we have a very impoverished tree assemblage. We need to work very much harder at developing resilience, which is a much longer term game than just simply banning imports, welcome and important though that is.
Q262 Richard Drax: Longer term, we know that pests can remain in furniture and on vehicles and so forth, and that is a huge problem. Do you have any magicwand solutions in the longer term to deal with that particular issue? How do you stop that?
Paul Wilkinson: It does come back to the fact that we need our trees and woodlands to be more resilient. There will probably never be an ability to stop everything that we would want to stop coming into this country. What we need to do is increase that resilience and ensure that we are protecting the genetic diversity of our trees and woodlands, so that is some of the work that is happening now around Chalara to potentially identify more resistant strains, but also looking at the genetic diversity of the breadth of our tree and plant species. It is about looking at the way in which those trees and woodlands are managed, to make sure that they are in good, sensitive management, and are robust and resilient to change, as well as the species composition of those woodlands, and trying to enhance and develop that. Things will blow in and be drawn in on car carriage, the legs of birds or whatever it might be, and what we have to do is to make sure that, as a country, our ecosystems and our national environment is much more resilient.
Q263 Richard Drax: Finally, can I touch on the further controls on plane, pine and sweet chestnut imports? As you know, the Secretary of State has made these announcements. What do you think of these proposals? Again, is further action required on this particular issue?
Dr Allison: We very much welcome that action; it sends a very clear signal. However, it does link back again with the risk register, so we need to be much more aware of potential pests and pathogens that may be coming in and to act as soon as we possibly can, by using the tools that we have, and strengthening and improving those through the forthcoming review of EU regulations.
Paul Wilkinson: I do not have any more to add to what has already been said.
Mike Wood: I would agree with Hilary. The only other thing I would add, going back to the previous question about packing cases and transport and whathaveyou, is there are still things that we need to do in terms of traceability and biosecurity within forestry, but also with horticultural trade and whathaveyou. Those things need to be done as well as trying to tackle some of the very difficult issues with packing cases and other material. That is where some of the reports for the expert group and some of the work for the Chalara group were quite useful in terms of gathering experience and understanding from elsewhere in the world. Not that there have been perfect solutions in New Zealand or elsewhere, but it gives a better understanding of how other people have tried to tackle this issue.
Q264 Chair: On the EU plants regulation, do you think it is sufficiently swift in its decisionmaking mechanism, and what improvements would you like to see to it?
Mike Wood: I am not convinced it is particularly swift enough. I do not have a magic wand for how they can work much quicker. We are concerned that it will take a while to make decisions, in terms of the new regulation or whatever form it is taking. Also, it will have a limited number of nonnative species-probably 50 they are going to look at-but there is probably bound to be room for improvement in that.
Q265 Neil Parish: Dr Allison, going back to the types of trees and the rate of diversity, the Japanese larch was brought in as a fast-growing tree and to give some diversity, so what are you saying regarding more diversity-within the UK or bringing in trees from outside? How do we create that? It is a great thing to say, but how do we do it?
Dr Allison: It depends what perspective you are coming from. If you are looking from a commercial forestry sector perspective, I am not going to be so qualified to respond to that. However, from a broadleaf native woodland perspective, which is where the Woodland Trust is coming from, we are convinced that there is much more use that one can make of minor species. We can increase the number of trees that we use in creating new woodlands using the existing material that we have and planting things that are less commonly used, but which could nonetheless add a great deal more variety and diversity to our woods.
Q266 Chair: Mr Wood, you said about doing more to develop resistance, and building on the work of other EU countries to do that. Could you point us in the direction of what you would like to see done? Do you think we have learned enough from countries like Holland and Denmark?
Mike Wood: Chalara has been a bit of a wakeup call for the UK, and I am hoping there will now be better joint working with other scientists. I think there already was, but better networking and joint working to understand some of these issues, and understand not just, "That is what is happening in Denmark", but how it works in context and how it may or may not work in the UK. Not that I am optimistic, but I think things have improved in terms of the need to look outside these borders and understand what others have been doing.
Q267 Chair: Do you think it was unwise to export seeds to grow into saplings in areas known to have the disease and then reimport those trees as saplings?
Mike Wood: Yes.
Chair: Can I thank each of you for being so generous with your time and for participating? Thank you.