Marcus Watson, managing director, Ground Control
Part of our industry’s role in society is that we care for our environment and we must take the issue of biosecurity and imported pests extremely seriously, above commercial considerations.
Oak Processionary Moth, whilst largely contained within the M25, has recently seen outbreaks further afield, in part due to the planting of infected imported specimens.
As an industry, we can make a large positive impact on preventing the import and spread of this injurious pest, above and beyond the recommendations and obligations from DEFRA. Specifically, only sourcing specimens from the UK grown outside infection zones or advising customers of the benefits of doing so and the risks to the environment and their reputation in the event of an outbreak.
Also, advise customers on alternative, less susceptible species. Where OPM is found on any site, report it to the landowner and if this one of your competencies, help them eradicate the outbreak and manage their tree stock.
David Keegan, owner, David Keegan Garden Designs
Like many pests and diseases affecting trees and shrubs in the UK, oak processionary moth is a non-native pest imported into the country. Most recent diseases to enter the UK on plant material is the result of poor bio security at point of entry.
I am concerned that not enough preventative action is in place to properly inspect, mange and ban the import of certain species of trees and shrubs.
However, trade nurseries, are taking active measures by not importing effected species into the UK. I was recently told by a supplier that I could not have the 16 Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata Koster. I was happy with the enforcement, as were my clients, and we chose a substitute instead.
I do however, think that we need a more proactive approach with a preventative ban on the import of species that are proved to be susceptible to lethal pests and diseases. The reality is that there are many unscrupulous traders who will simply ignore the problem. In the end, our biosecurity is far too important to allow that to happen.
Nicola Spence, chief plant health officer, DEFRA
The UK Government has invested more than £4.5 million to strengthen our border security, recruiting new plant inspectors and augmenting training.
Defra has recently introduced strengthened national legislation to protect oak trees against oak processionary moth (OPM) through movement and import.The legislation prohibits the movement of certain oak trees into the OPM Protected Zone unless specific conditions are met.
In a recent meeting with Defra representatives, a group of Horticultural Trades Association traders and growers are urging importers to ensure oaks being brought into the UK comply with current legislation to combat OPM.
The industry and public should be vigilant for OPM and report them to the government tree health portal, known as Tree Alert.
OPM is one of a number of pressures facing our oak trees. Over the last five years, Defra has invested over £10m on oak health, including the management of the OPM outbreak in the London and Surrey area and research to develop novel control techniques.
Caroline Ayre, Confor, national manager for England
Confor have worked closely with the UK Government and its agencies to introduce the tighter controls. We had already produced a paper calling for an immediate ban of high risk trees. We hope that these restrictions are not ‘too little too late’ and ask that industry remains vigilant. The constant message is: inspect, inspect and inspect again.
The new measures will only permit imports of certain oak trees, including those from OPM-free countries and those from designated pest-free areas including Protected Zones (PZs), an area of the EU declared free of OPM.
The restrictions will cover both imports from overseas and the movement of trees from areas of the country where OPM is already present.
Woodland managers, landowners, the forest industry and tree nurseries have been reminded to remain vigilant and to check recently planted large oak trees as a priority.
Helen Elks-Smith, Owner, Elks-Smith Landscape and Garden Design
Back in 2014, OPM was limited to within the M25. In 2018, restrictions were introduced and strengthened this year. Given that OPM was introduced some 10 years ago, reactions to this and similar threats has been slow.
My understanding is OPM was introduced by a tree imported directly to site. Importing oak trees and any other plants that may harbour pests and diseases needs to be controlled. Importing direct to site has to be a questionable practice.
Sourcing plants from reputable companies able to demonstrate they take biosecurity seriously is essential. For some pests and diseases, a blanket ban on all imports is not necessarily needed but for others it is. We have a duty to keep our knowledge up to date as things change from one year to another.
Nick Coslett, horticultural consultant, Palmstead Nurseries and BALI
As usual, we seem to always close the door after the horse has bolted! Our Govt agencies – DEFRA – are as usual just too slow in assessing the risk to the UK’S plant health and they are under-resourced.
Lessons which should have been learnt from ash dieback have not stopped an invasion or rather an introduction, of infected oaks.
The desire to trade seems to outweigh good biosecurity. There have been some 60 incidents within the UK’S Protected Zone for importing oaks, all supposedly with their phytosanitary certificates. This time is now to stop all oak imports as EU plant health checks are not sufficient. Perhaps if Brexit does happen we can draw up far stricter rules, I also feel the UK tree growers need to grow more here.