The Northern Ireland Assembly has been dissolved. The election will take place on Thursday 5 May 2016.

Stakeholder Event on Tree Disease

As part of the review of Tree Disease the Committee held a stakeholder event to gather the views of stakeholders. There were three groups that came up with the following points:

Tree Disease Stakeholder Event - Group One Notes

“Stopping the introduction of new tree diseases and reduce the rate of spread of current diseases including ash dieback within Northern Ireland.”

1. Stopping the Introduction

The following points were made from group members:

  • Issue with trees being imported to Mediterranean from outside the EU – with no strict controls they can move at will across the EU, leaving the UK vulnerable due to lack of knowledge of where trees are from and where they go to. Need a plant passport system to ensure they are clear from disease.
  • Lack of uncertainty for nursery industry in Ireland – need to remove this by forecasting the number of trees needed across Ireland to give certainty of supply.  Needs to be on an all island basis, improving certainty attracts more investment which facilitates nurseries.
  • Need to stop direct importation from EU – one member mentioned that their nursery has stopped importing hawthorn and only use Irish or Scottish – have lost some business due to this decision- suppliers can buy cheap imports for half the price – people will go for cheaper options due to lack of knowledge of the risk, therefore need roll out of education on issues.
  • There is a lack of a long-term static view on supply i.e 4/5 small nurseries out of business due to lack of continuity of supply, and many others are importing –need to encourage more planting- however need a form of forecasting similar to the south to indicate how much planting is needed – should put figures from the different departments together, needs to be a unified figure across the whole island that can adjust i.e. a rolling figure that gives certainty as CAP reform takes place
  • Need more encouragement i.e. should pay additional money for locally produced trees- this will encourage local employment. There is an ability to develop a new market ie firewood market for wood burning stoves.
  • Not much forward planning – reactionary approach taken to disease – need to put radar out to ensure research is looking ahead.  Need to map what parts of world and species are most at risk i.e. focus on high risk areas – prediction and horizon scanning for whether a disease is likely to affect UK and to quantify its possible impact – currently this is very difficult to monitor.
  • Soil is currently a big problem and how to sterilise it.  Need to also think of packaging, wood in containers etc. can all contain unknown wood.  Very difficult to monitor this at the dock side.  The issue is with any form of bare timber.

 2. Controlling the rate of spread

The following points from members of the group were made:

  • Need to increase public awareness and communication – the media needs to give positive messages- needs to be a similar message that everyone is pushing and it needs to keep rolling to take effect.
  • Needs to risk map the country- to get the potential for spread in an area.  Need to know whether outbreak could be close to a designated site.
  • Need to keep planting trees- need to target grant aid to planting of trees i.e. the current Forest Service Policy not grant aiding ash planting – if plant own ash this creates genetic diversity – need to encourage people to plant and identify the resistant trees – however need to educate people on identifying resistant trees.
  • Landowner inspection issues- lack of communication with all agents about inspections.  Lack of informing before the inspection-tend to only happen after the event and lack of follow-up with landowners.
  • There is a fear and confusion amongst farmers in relation to hedgerows.
  • Forest Service needs to improve contact avenues - hard to get hold of by phone – people lose appetite to contact them with queries/concerns etc.

Tree Disease Stakeholder Event - Group two notes:

“Building resilience to tree diseases in general and ash die back specifically within Northern Ireland”

How do we build resilience?

  • There is a real need for increased genetic diversity in the trees that we plant. The reality is that many of the trees being planted at present are being sourced from a narrow seed bank;
  • We have time on our side in relation to ash dieback due to the fact that it is not yet in the wider environment here. Have a number of options as a result:
  • Bring in resilient/resistant stock from GB;
  • Use locally sources disease free ash – might be the better option;
  • Other alternative and more controversial approach to allow diseases to run their course. Monitor and pick out resistant trees and replant using this stock. This is being done in parts of England in relation to ash dieback. Dutch elm disease example was cited – are these trees missed? Areas have been recolonised by new species;

EU issues

  • Netherlands is a major producer of many of the plants used here but also leaves us exposed to risk of tree disease/pests;
  • Highlights the legislative weakness that we face due to the lack of scrutiny for intra EU plant movement. The plant passport system has potential for extension but also has weaknesses due to the fact that it is not timely – can cover material that has previously been planted;
  • Concerns around the fact that plants entering Northern could be carrying pests/diseases which could come in on one species and then affect others - example of ramorum, started in rhododendron and then spread to trees;
  • Real need for review of EU Plant Health regime to address current weaknesses – extension of the passport system or the introduction of a quarantine system for plant imports into the EU should be considered – also raises the potential of better sharing of information across the EU – a key issue if tree and plant diseases are to be contained or eradicated;

Local tree/plant nursery issues

  • Big questions around whether we have both the range and volume of tree stock within Northern Ireland to meet our needs;
  • Simply not viable in the short term to not import plants from the EU – local plant growing/nursery capacity not sufficient to meet the demand. Question needs to be asked if we are a big enough market to support a successful local nursery industry?;
  • Local nurseries will need to be supported to increase their production capacity – reality is that local nurseries currently import trees because to grow them is not economically viable – in effect many local nurseries are brokers of plants rather than growers;
  • Options for support could include grant support for native stock production and the possibility of farm diversification into plant nursery business;
  • There is also a real need for research to determine the level of genetic diversity that exists within our local tree stock – such research would also be critical to local plant nurseries in terms of identifying and growing resilient/resistant stock over an 8-10 year period;
  • The Eco Seeds company approach to utilising local seed stock was highlighted as a good example of what can be done – key being traceability ensuring the provenance and quality of seed stock and trees/plants cultivated from this source;
  • The National Trust was also highlighted in relation to their potential use of the walled gardens within their properties here as plant nurseries;

Wider issues for consideration in building resilience

  • May need to take a lead from agriculture in terms of genetic modification time as a means of developing desired traits and increasing disease/pest resistance – needs a long term approach;
  • We need to plant more trees – will have a net effect of increasing resilience as more chance of disease resistance being built – providing we utilise local stock;
  • Need a combination of approaches to deal with this issue in the short and long term – there is no magic bullet
  • The long term approach is particularly necessary in relation to trees – natures pace is different to that of man and we need to take this into account and consider letting nature take its course;
  • We need an effective Invasive Species Strategy that takes account of the risks posed;
  • Do we have the knowledge and skills locally to deal with the current and future risks?;
  • Needs to be wider involvement in this issue NIEA and Environment committee as good examples;
  • We need to decide where best to invest resources – pre-emption/prevention as opposed to dealing with outbreaks.

Tree Disease Stakeholder Event- Group three notes:

“Developing positive linkages between all sectors involved in tree diseases in Northern Ireland”

The following points were made from group members:

  • The infiltration of Chalara into the UK acted as a wakeup call leading to focus groups being set up to tackle the disease. Links have now been made and these should be built on and continued to scan the horizon in search of what the new diseases are likely to be, where they have come from and how they are being dealt with. If the government do undertake such an exercise, there is a lack of information getting through to the industry. Both DEFRA and Scotland have groups set up for scanning for future diseases, whereas here we tend to have responsive groups that react to a problem and then dissolve.
  • Although the immediate aid and advice given to the industry by the Department was both fast and efficient it has since dried up leaving some stakeholders in limbo. Some confusion needs to be made clear to the industry, especially when the Department are studying the trees that look most likely to fall from Chalara but not sharing the information or details if they are not suffering from the disease.
  • UK wide bodies are needed to look at the issues of complexity of diseases and identifying new host species which should focus on research and communication. It could also look at pests and diseases that are being brought in where there is no basis or resistance here, while developing a better knowledge of what is out there.
  • There was concern that the plan for Invasive Alien Species which is taken forward by the DOE yet they were not involved in the stakeholder discussions. More information needs to be discussed and shared between government Departments internally and indeed with the industry. We are looking at just a tiny snapshot of the disease threats that are out there and a common sense approach to Biodiversity and linkages with all bodies here and in the UK.
  • There are issues around trade and free trade that could be taken forward by the industry to help strengthen resistance here. This could also be aided by a joint up approach to looking at planning ahead based on a contract basis to help reduce risks.
  • There are many contacts between the Department here and the Industry, i.e. National Trust, Woodland Trust etc. The Department should use this to its fullest by providing these organisations with up to date information and guidance that they can in turn provide to their Members increasing the circle of knowledge and what people are looking out for.
  • Although there is no legislation to stop importing plants a government led approach to introduce legislation may not be the best way forward.
  • Procurement procedures can be a problem, especially with specification and we should have a joint up approach on how to handle supply and demand.
  • The industry in Scotland has taken the lead by labelling more details on the plants the sell. Not only does this show the seed provenance, but also lists the details of where that sapling has been growing. Some possible government led incentive around this could bring more stakeholders around the table to discuss a similar system here which would benefit Northern Ireland.
  • A joint approach looking at how forests should be managed may be of great value. NI academics should engage with Industry in a long tern research project to look at all aspects of biodiversity involved in forestry and science. This could include flood mitigation and why we are felling forests.


A series of questions relevant to the review were also asked and the following answers and points collated:

What is NI doing well regarding Tree Disease?

Red Group

  • Speed of DARD’s reaction to likelihood of Chalara. Better than Phytophthora;
  • “Fortress Ireland” approach essential;
  • Swift action to reduce inoculum levels of Chalara and provide an opportunity to put an effective plan in place;
  • Removal of infected trees by Forest Service staff;
  • Enforced destruction and trace forward;
  • Number of sites surveyed; and
  • Stakeholder event – getting all sectors and parties together to talk

Green Group

  • Good that the problem is being tackled on an all-Ireland basis;
  • Fortress island and all island approach;
  • NI is a small community so any measures would be easy to implement; and
  • Fortress Ireland is buying us time to build an action plan.

Blue Group

  • Quick turn around on legislation to prevent imports;
  • Response to chalara and tracing planting stock and taking action;
  • Plant health and incident response;
  • Forest Service monitoring and have covered a major number of sites;
  • Very quick introduction of plant health legislation. Good relationship between private sectors, growers and Forest Service

What could NI do better?

Red Group

  • Lack of communication on the ground;
  • Need to produce a plan to influence the UK position in the EU. Review of plant health to allow us to enhance/protect plant health in NI;
  • Lack of communication with all agents;
  • No request for assistance;
  • Lack of import control;
  • Need to develop local tree growing markets e.g. Fir wood/Coppice;
  • Proper screening of imports e.g. UV rays like with seawater;
  • Engage with other profesionals;
  • All Ireland control plan, research and forward planning nursery;
  • Lack of communication with Agency staff, NGOs, the public and private sector;
  • Shouldn’t have to import trees – make an all-Ireland forecast of tree need to give nurseries better notice;
  • More joined up approach with all stakeholders, particularly private sector;
  • Lack of information being pushed about. Need response plan for Spring and bud burst;
  • No bio-security measures on infected sites that involve the public;
  • Forest signage unimaginative and not maintained;
  • Central lack of engagement with public and the industry stakeholders;

Green Group

  • We have decreased the area of woodland creation created annually – this should be increased dramatically;
  • NI is very poor at establishing tree covered landscape;
  • Development of further links between stakeholders to discuss and develop actions to control tree disease;
  • Expertise and knowledge within NI needs to be improved; and
  • Import of non-local provenance trees from GB and continent disease and parasites.

Blue Group

  • Use stakeholders better; establish a steering group;
  • Need to be linked to the Invasive Species Strategy. Need joined up government;
  • Long term research project involving QUB, NIFS and private woodland owners to examine the impact of horticultural systems on plant health/disease issues;
  • Further research on maintenance of plant pathology and plant pest knowledge and skills;
  • Planning Service require planting mature/standards which increases the risk of introducing IAS; and
  • Support for local nurseries growing trees locally in in the required volumes. Also grow standards are required.

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