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Public's help needed to fight deadly diseases that threaten Somerset woodland

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: November 02, 2012

Vibrant colour at Stourhead

Vibrant colour at Stourhead

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The public must help fight the rising tide of deadly diseases that threaten the West’s woodlands a leading National Trust expert has said.

Ian Wright, the Trust’s West-based plant health advisor warned that the boundaries of the European Union and not the English coasts, are now effectively the real boundaries at which the first defences against disease must be placed.

Speaking after the Countryside Restoration Trust revealed research detailing 25 tree pests and diseases which are either present in the UK or threaten British shores Mr Wright said there is a need to review EU defences.

“The EU is the first defence boundary and a lot of plants are now moving around within the EU. I feel we are being very reactive and need to be proactive. The EU plant health regime is being reviewed so now is the time to influence the outcome, because we have to work within its rules.

“We can’t be putting everything at the Government’s door all the time, we all need to take responsibility to try to sort the problems out. ”

The CRT report was commissioned by Conservative MP Zak Goldsmith. In collaboration with the charity he has tabled an early day motion to the House of Commons, calling on the Government to set up a Tree Protection Task Force which has an enhanced capacity to take rapid action against the pests and diseases which have breached or threaten our borders, and create a long-term strategy to build greater resilience in trees and woodlands.

The report warns that London’s well-loved plane trees could be at risk from plane wilt. An outbreak has occurred just across the Channel which has led to the felling of 42,000 plane trees lining the historic Canal du Midi in southern France.

The fight continues to save Britain’s ash trees from deadly ash die-back a disease which has killed 90 per cent of the species in Denmark.

The West Country has suffered badly from Phytophthora ramorum, which has jumped species and is a major threat to larch. Horse chestnuts are falling to bleeding canker and blight, and many trees have been felled to try to curb the spread. Mr Wright said yesterday that the National Trust has spent £1 million in dealing with Phytophthora since 2003. “It is having an impact not only on the natural environment, but on the historic environment. The Countryside Restoration Trust has done well to highlight the threat to landscapes which we almost take for granted in this country.

“These threats are building up. If you look at a graph of the diseases and pests which have arrived over the last 100 years there is exponential growth over the last 20 years. We import a vast number of plants, and people continue to want imported plants.”

Invasive non-native species cost the UK economy £1.7 billion annually, with £130 million attributed to tree and shrub pests.

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