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Forestry Commission lifts Phytophthora pluvialis restrictions on timber industry

Plant health requirements lifted following research which showed that risk of the disease spreading via timber material is low

Restrictions on the felling and movement of timber in six demarcated areas in England impacted by the tree disease Phytophthora pluvialis will be lifted, the Forestry Commission announced 17 January.

The UK chief plant health officer Nicola Spence has confirmed the changes following updated research which shows that the risk of the disease spreading via the movement of timber and wood materials into wider sites is low.  A Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) has been carried out and updated following consultations and latest research findings.

Phytophthora pluvialis is a fungus-like pathogen known to affect a variety of tree species, including western hemlock, Douglas fir, tanoak and several pine species (in particular radiata pine). It is reported to cause needle cast (where needles turn brown and fall off), shoot dieback, and lesions on the stem, branches, and roots.

Current restrictions in England on the affected sites in Cornwall & Devon, Cumbria, Herefordshire, Surrey, Gloucestershire, and Shropshire restrict the felling and movement of susceptible timber and wood materials (wood, bark and trees), as well as plants for planting, which originate within the demarcated areas. The new demarcated area notices will no longer restrict the felling and movement of susceptible timber and wood material but will continue to restrict the movement of plants for planting.

We continue to research and monitor the level of risk and likelihood of entry of the disease into the wider environment and will keep the revised demarcated area restrictions under review. This revised approach will the forestry sector return to more typical operating conditions within the demarcated areas. Authorisation through your local APHA inspector is still required for any movement of plants for planting within the demarcated area. Additionally, susceptible material from known infected sites within the demarcated areas continues to be restricted and can only be received by authorised businesses, more details can be found on GOV.UK.

Phytophthora Pluvialis was first identified in Great Britain in August 2021 on a stand of western hemlock in Cornwall. Following further findings, fourteen demarcated areas have been implemented around outbreak sites across Great Britain, with six in England. Corresponding plant health requirements restricting the felling and movement of susceptible timber and wood materials (wood, bark and trees), as well as plants for planting, were based on the pathogen’s behaviour observed in other countries. Forestry Commission, Forest Research and the Animal and Plant Health Agency have conducted further surveillance and diagnostic analysis to understand more about the pathogen and ensure that any required control measures were swiftly undertaken to stop its spread. This included extensive ground and aerial surveillance as part of a UK-wide survey, and comprehensive research and modelling to explore factors such as climatic and potential species susceptibility to inform the management response.

Our well-established biosecurity protocol for tree pests and diseases is under constant review to ensure our policy approaches are appropriate to the level of risk. This approach will continue based on further research and continued monitoring of the pathogen.

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