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Conservation expert warns over link between nursery imports and ash dieback

University of Kent conservation expert Dr David Roberts has suggested that ash dieback disease may have been caused partly by the import trade in nursery stock.

With tree experts due to meet today (7 November) with government officials to discuss the ash dieback outbreak, Dr Roberts, of the University's Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology within its School of Anthropology and Conservation, commented:

‘With the rising number of sites where ash dieback has been discovered, we probably need to learn to live with it and use this event to learn lessons for the future. Previous experience has shown that governments have a poor record of dealing with these kinds of environmental challenge. We are an island and need to use this as our natural defence. It is likely that some of the trees discovered have been infected with spores blown over from the continent. However it is also clear that a significant number are the result of the importation of nursery stock.

'Current plant health regulations do more for free trade than actually protecting plants and the environment. We need to use our island's natural barrier to prevent certain material coming in - but also use the import bottlenecks for better inspection.

'While the ash trees of the UK may have some level of natural protection in their genetic make-up, maintaining high levels of biodiversity is crucial. By maintaining high levels of biodiversity, we can reduce the chance that a spore of this fungus will find an ash tree.

'Finally, out of this disaster we have an opportunity to support UK businesses that grow plants in the UK from UK stock. People need to ask what is the origin of any plant or animal product they buy. Many already do this when they buy sustainably harvested fish or ethically raised chicken. Further, we need to be vigilant and report unusual findings, particularly around new developments, where large numbers of big plants have been planted which tend to come from the continent.

'Plants, animals and their products are being shipped globally and ever more rapidly. Without effect regulation - including inspections - emerging diseases and the escape of invasive species are likely to occur ever more frequently.'


Story published at 11:43am 7 November 2012

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