Sudden Oak Death

Environment Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 11th February 2004.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what research she has evaluated on whether spores of sudden oak death are carried by (a) the air, (b) water and (c) human movement.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

The disease "Phytophthora ramorum" (or Sudden Oak Death) was described as a new species in October 2001. As it was a new species very little was known about the disease and no research had been conducted which could be evaluated to determine how the spores are dispersed.

From June 2002 Defra and the Forestry Commission have commissioned research to investigate the biology of the disease including how spores of this organism are spread. The research programme is on-going. However, preliminary investigations have detected spores in water, soil and leaf litter but not so far in air. More intensive air sampling is planned for the spring when conditions are more conducive for spore production. The possibility of dispersal via wind blown mists cannot be ruled out. Studies are also assessing the role of vertebrates in spreading the pathogen. If humans or animals come into contact with infected soil/debris or other contaminated material it is possible that they could spread spores of the disease but it is unclear how significant such dispersal would be in establishing new infections. Defra and FC scientists are also keeping in close contact with colleagues in the USA who are investigating this disease.

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