Ash Dieback Disease

Part of Opposition Day — [9th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 12th November 2012.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:15 pm, 12th November 2012

I expect local authorities to show a little common sense. The whole country is benefiting from the very good Forestry Commission website, which is providing all the information that they need in order to identify the disease. We bring the Local Government Association into the inner workings of government at the Cobra committee, so it can provide information to local authorities. I do not think there needs to be a letter from me just to add to the pile of correspondence—and reduce the number of trees in this country in the process—rather than authorities taking sensible advice.

Building on the advice of the summit, on Friday the Secretary of State announced the immediate action we would be taking. Newly planted diseased trees and diseased trees in nurseries will be traced and destroyed, as young trees that are infected succumb quickly. Mature trees will not be removed, however, as they are valuable to wildlife and take longer to die. They can help us learn more about the genetic strains that might be resistant to the disease. Infection does not occur directly from tree to tree—a point which, again, is lost on some.

Better understanding of the disease will be built through research and surveys, looking not only for diseased trees, but for those that show signs of resistance to Chalara. The search for the disease will include trees in towns and cities—a point made by Mark Lazarowicz—as well as in the countryside. It will also include building partnerships with a range of organisations beyond government and providing advice to foresters, land managers, environmental groups and the public about how to identify diseased trees and those likely to be resistant to the disease, and what to do with that information.

Organisations such as the Woodland Trust and the National Trust have endorsed this approach. None of the action we have taken to date or that is planned involves restricting access to the countryside. The scientists are clear that there is no need for that. We want to ensure rural businesses continue to operate and that people who want to enjoy the countryside can do so.

These are just the first steps, and by the end of November we will have developed a comprehensive control plan that will set up longer-term action to tackle Chalara. It will consider measures such as designating protected zones and improving diagnostics and biosecurity. Our approach will, for the first time, look at how we can mobilise the many people who love our countryside and value the trees in our towns and cities, in order to help us tackle this disease. For the longer term, we will learn the lessons from the response to Chalara and use them to consider our strategic approach to plant health. The Secretary of State has already told the House that he is prepared to look at radical options. He will come back to the House in a few weeks to report on progress.

I believe we have taken all appropriate actions to deal with what is a very serious situation.