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'Ash dieback is just the tip of the iceberg'

Last modified: 07 November 2012

Ash tree

Ash tree

A summit on the tree disease Chalara fraxinea, also known as ash dieback, has taken place in London this afternoon [Wednesday 7 November].

The meeting, chaired by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and attended by Government officials, tree experts and conservation NGOs, considered the findings of a nationwide survey carried out by Forestry Commission staff and agreed a course of action.

The Government revealed that the Forestry Commission’s survey data indicated the disease is present in 115 sites and a further six counties. Based on the new figures, experts including the RSPB, discussed what steps were now needed to minimise any further impact.

The Secretary of State used the meeting to ask for advice, ideas and suggestions which he’ll take to the Cobra meeting on Friday.

Nick Phillips, the RSPB’s forestry officer, attended the summit.  He said: “As we realise the full extent of ash dieback, hopes of containing it are dwindling. This is devastating news, but the Government must avoid a knee-jerk reaction. It’s time for a carefully considered response to minimise any further collateral damage to our trees and wildlife.

“While it’s true that spores of this disease can be airborne, this is not the whole story. Science indicates that human movement of plants and plant material has been a key way this disease has spread across Europe. It’s critical that messages from Government help maintain public vigilance on this and other wildlife diseases. Blaming the wind as the sole disperser will not help.

“The introduction of invasive non-native species are a major threat to the UK’s animals and plants. Ash dieback is one example of this effect, but unfortunately it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Government must use this opportunity to develop effective regulation on species trade and movements, and to implement rapid detection and response mechanisms. As a European island nation with strong international trading links, it’s imperative we, and our EU partners, act now.”

The RSPB is a major landowner. Over 8,000 of our 140,000 hectares of nature reserves are wooded. We're being vigilant on all our sites and closely monitoring for signs of the disease.

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