COMMONS

More trees expertise may decrease disease

11 March 2014

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee publishes its tenth report on Tree health and plant biosecurity on Tuesday 11 March 2014

There are too few plant health academics—and courses to train them—in UK universities and colleges, warn MPs today in a report of an inquiry triggered by the outbreak of ash dieback disease.

Launching its Report on Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Miss Anne McIntosh 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."

The Committee endorses the recommendations of the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce but urges the Government to deliver every recommendation fully in collaboration with stakeholders.

"The Government’s efforts so far to combat plant disease are to be welcomed, but we must strengthen our own capability to predict, monitor, control and mitigate the impact of pests and diseases on plants here in the UK", adds Anne McIntosh.

Co-ordination and collaboration

The Committee warns that the recent outbreak of ash dieback disease exposed some lack of definition of the roles and responsibilities of plant health authorities in the UK.

"The Chief Plant Health Officer should address this shortcoming as a top priority” said Miss McIntosh. “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" says Anne McIntosh.

Funding

MPs also call for ring-fenced funding to underpin long-term research and development work that focuses on preparation for future plant health threats.

Commenting on this, Miss McIntosh added "disease risks to plants in the UK are rising significantly but funding for research in this area has not kept pace.  One of Defra’s new priorities is to safeguard plant health: long term funding must reflect this accordingly."

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