Skip to content

Zac Goldsmith & CRT
call for a Tree Protection Task Force

CRT Media Release

Cover of The Threat to England's Trees.

On the 31st October Zac Goldsmith MP, in collaboration with the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT) — of which he is a trustee — tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to set up a ‘Tree Protection Task Force’ which has an enhanced capacity for taking rapid action against pests and diseases that have already breached our borders and the resources for developing long-term strategies to build greater resilience in our trees, woodlands and forests against future challenges.

Zac Goldsmith MP said: “There has been a huge uprising of public interest in England’s woods and forests recently – offering opportunities and opening up the political space for their expansion as a sustainable economic resource, as well as providing recreation and other vital public goods and services.

“But alongside this welcome surge in public support for our woods and trees, is a parallel worrying increase in invasive pests and diseases — which threatens to undermine the long-term viability and even survival of some of our much-loved tree species.

“That’s why, in collaboration with the CRT, I am calling on the Government to invest more resources in the form of a Tree Protection Task Force, not just for short-term fire-fighting when a pest is already present, but for getting ahead of those posing future threats and developing long-term strategies to build greater resilience into our woods, forests and city tree-scapes.”¹

In the spring of 2012, before ash die-back (the latest tree disease to hit the UK), was confirmed as infecting native trees, Zac Goldsmith commissioned the CRT to review the threats from, and possible solutions to, the increasing number of pests and diseases assaulting our native trees, woods and commercial forests. The arrival of ash die-back, a disease that has wiped out 90% of Denmark’s ash trees, has brought forward the launch of that research, confirming its prescience and value.

CRT’s summary research briefing, The Threat to England’s trees from Invasive Non-Native Species of Pest and Disease (link downloads a pdf) — a copy of which has been sent to all MPs — reveals that:

  • 25 tree pests and diseases ‘new’ to the UK are either already established, recently arrived, on their way, or pose potential threats to our trees, woods and forests;
  • Acute Oak Decline affects 50% of oaks in some English woods;
  • 70% of conker trees in England suffer from ‘Bleeding Canker’;
  • 90% of new pests and diseases are brought into the UK via imported trees and shrubs;
  • the hugely destructive Asian Longhorn Beetle, first found breeding in a wood in Kent in March 2012, escaped into the wild from wooden packing cases carrying landscaping stone from China;
  • Plane Wilt, currently just across the Channel, could transform our city tree-scapes. One-tenth of all trees in Greater London are Plane trees. The disease has forced the felling of 42,000 Plane trees lining France’s historic Canal du Midi;
  • overall, invasive non-native pests and diseases (INNS) cost the UK economy at least £1.7 billion annually; at least £130 million of those annual costs are attributed to tree pests and diseases².

Robin Maynard, campaigns director for the Countryside Restoration Trust said: “As a practical farming and conservation body looking after several areas of woodland and farms with ash trees growing in the spinneys, copses and hedgerows, CRT is deeply concerned about this latest disease threatening the ecology and economy of our countryside³. England is already the least wooded country in Europe; the plague of pests and diseases breaching our borders and now able to survive under the warmer, wetter conditions brought by climate change threatens to erode our country’s tree-scape further.

“As the CRT’s report shows, both the rate and range of pests and diseases are increasing. The ‘4 Ts’ of Trade, Transport, Travel and Tourism are their routes in – with imported trees and shrubs for the horticultural trade being the main ‘Trojan Horse’.

“Whilst the horticultural and nursery industry must take more responsibility for preventing the importation of these potentially devastating pests and diseases – Government must also do more. The current resources allocated – both financial and people – are not sufficient to tackle the problem or in proportion to the significant growth in the trade in imported trees and plants over the past decade. The sum spent in seeking to contain just one disease, Phytophthora ramorum (which has now spread all the way up to Scotland since being discovered on Japanese larch in Cornwall in 2009) is more than three times the ‘new’ funding allocated for all R&D on tree pests and diseases over 3 years.”

¹Resilience: the UK’s native trees and also established commercial species are vulnerable to attack by invasive pests and diseases which they have not evolved alongside and so not developed natural resistance to — i.e. many of our tree species are ‘naïve’ in not co-evolving defence mechanisms against the ‘new’ exotic pests and diseases over thousands of years. Some forestry experts believe that greater resilience can be developed/enhanced by planting a wider mixture of tree species, as well as genetic diversity within species — especially within large-scale commercial plantations. This is the same principle, as practised by the CRT, of planting a mosaic of crops on a farm, rather than relying on the monocultures of intensive agriculture — which makes them prone to pest infestation as well as being poor for wildlife.        back to article

²The Economic Cost of Invasive Non-Native Species on Great Britain, November 2010. (On destination page, click on 5th link down, under Reports.)        back to article

³CRT woodland: the CRT manages over 1,200 acres of land with properties in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Herefordshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Surrey, Sussex and Yorkshire. Several of our properties, both specific areas of woodland and the working farms contain a significant proportion of ash – for example, within the mix of trees planted up in the miles of new hedgerow at Lark Rise Farm, as well as in remnant ancient pollard trees.        back to article

According to the National Audit Office, outbreaks of pests and diseases (crop, tree, shrub) increased from 150 per year over 1993-2000; to 200 per year 2001; and 370 per year in 2002. In parallel, the trade in imported horticultural products increased from £197 million in 2000 to £340 million by 2008.        back to article

In 2011, the previous Defra Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman, announced that £7 million would be allocated to R&D into all tree pests and diseases over 3 years. For comparison, the Scottish Crop Research Institute receives £15 million per annum to research agricultural crop pests and diseases. The recent programme aiming to eradicate the tree fungus, Phytophthora ramorum and the related P. kernoviae is estimated to cost £25 million over 5 years.        back to article