This blog argues that UK Woodlands may benefit from the UK leaving the EU if tree diseases can be stopped with better import control. It considers the position of Norway, which although a member of EEA does not participate in the Common Agricultural Policy and has greater control over the tree stock in Norway than applies within the EU. I’ve never been a fan of the CAP but more of that in a later blog.
I manage a wood in Wiltshire which is a mixture of trees planted in the nineteenth century and newly planted oak, alder, beech, elm, birch, hawthorn and maple. As such I am acutely aware of the threats of tree disease which have increased since 2000. The value of woodlands to our natural environment and carbon budget is now recognised, given the timescale of replacing trees so we should be serious about tree health.
Under current rules trees can be imported into the UK from other EU countries. The following trees require notification for import into England and Wales:
- Sweet Chestnut
- Ash (currently prohibited)
- Prunus (e.g cherry, peach, plum, laurel)
In other words trees, largely have freedom of movement within the EU and a surprisingly high number of trees are imported into the UK from the EU. As an example a Freedom of Information request established that 1.4 million were imported in January 2015 (an annual rate of 17 million trees).
The Royal Horticultural Society describe it thus:
“Within the European Union (EU) there are no border checks for plants and plant products travelling between member states and, it is possible, to import and export plants freely with very few exceptions.”
But this exposes Forestry in the UK to diseases in the rest of the EU.
To quote the Forestry Commission:
“There is general agreement that the EU’s plant health regime needs strengthening to meet the challenges of the global trading environment of the 21st century. “
Again from the Forestry Commission:
“Oak processionary moth(Thaumetopoea processionae), for example, is believed to have entered London and Berkshire as eggs already laid on semi-mature oak trees imported from continental Europe for a landscaping project.”
At Wood health seminars given by the Forestry Commission, the acceleration of tree diseases in England and Wales since 2000 has been noted, with up to 10 diseases appearing in this period. Tree health is threatened – a good example being the recent new threat of Chalara dieback of ash. “This is a serious disease of ash trees caused by a fungus called Chalara fraxinea, including its sexual stage, Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus. The disease causes leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees, and often leads to tree death, particularly in younger trees.
The disease has caused widespread damage to ash populations in continental Europe, including infection rates of between 60 and 90 per cent of Denmark’s ash trees. The long-term consequences of its entering the natural environment in the UK are likely to be similar, although the degree of mortality cannot yet be predicted with any certainty in our maritime climate.”
The prohibition of Ash imports post dates this disease, before that Ash could be imported from the EU. To be clear, I am not asserting that all the tree diseases which have appeared in the UK in the last 10 years are the consequence of the free movement of trees within the EU to the UK, but it is clear that some are.
As a result, a restriction on the level and nature of tree imports more consistent with the rules which apply to other countries would seem a prudent policy to adopt. A UK outside the EU or CAP would allow these controls to be applied and this should help reduce the risk of imported tree diseases.
If we look at Norway, the rules for imports are determined by Norway, under the Regulations for the import of plants into Norway (1964) , Norway has the right to control which plants and trees are imported into Norway regardless of their origin. (There is an exception for the border area with Sweden).
Leaving the CAP provides the UK with an opportunity to make a welcome improvement in the security of our woods and forests from diseases imported from Europe. Given the experience since 2000, this opportunity should be taken and government policy should encourage the production of seedling trees in the UK to replace imports and carefully control both the type of tree import and the origin of the tree stock.
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