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UK lacks experts to deal with tree and plant diseases, say MPs



The UK does not have enough expertise in the field of tree and plant diseases, according to a report by MPs on the environment, food and rural affairs committee (EFRA).

As a result, they say the government is at risk of losing the necessary skills to predict, monitor, control and mitigate the impact of pests and pathogens on the natural environment.

The environment committee said that there are too few plant and tree experts in universities and colleges across the UK, after it carried out an inquiry into the outbreak of ash dieback disease.

Recommendations in the report include increasing funding for post-graduate research projects in order to secure a sufficient level of expertise within the industry, as well as calling on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to immediately supply the committee with a list of other initiatives being taken to address the shortage.

Chair of the committee Anne McIntosh MP said, “The UK needs its own solid core of dedicated, well trained experts in this area and the government must act with urgency to address the skills gap that we currently face.”

She said that the government’s efforts are so far to be welcomes, adding that capabilities within the industry must be strengthened, warning that the recent outbreak of ash dieback exposed a lack of definition in the roles and responsibilities of plant health authorities.

McIntosh added, “The Chief Plant Health Officer should address this shortcoming as a top priority. Co-ordination and communication between the multiple plant health organisations, both within the UK and across the EU, is key. We must take advantage of lessons learned on the continent and take early action at home to combat the risks posed by diseases and pests”.

Last year, the Woodlands Trust announced that tree disease was a major issue, which was “devastating” woodlands across the UK. The comments came after 200 hectares of ancient woodland had to be felled in Wales following the outbreak of sudden oak death.

According to figures, just 2% of the UK is covered by ancient woodlands, with half of this figure infected with disease.

Further reading:

Tree disease continues to ‘devastate’ UK woodlands

England’s tree population needs to return Domesday levels

Woodland Trust restoration plan gets £1.9m lottery grant

Campaigners say government planning policy will ‘wreck countryside’

Healthy forests ‘crucial for economic development’