The Woodland Trust is disappointed at the slow progress being made to tackle the growing problem of ash dieback following the publication of the Government’s ‘Interim Chalara Control Plan’. The Plan leaves key issues unresolved, lacks crucial detail and feels incomplete with much survey and tracing work still outstanding.
Having escalated the ash crisis to a national emergency, the Government’s Autumn Statement completely missed the opportunity to follow through with the modest sums needed to ensure DEFRA is properly resourced and this crisis will not be repeated. Instead, the Chancellor announced that billions of pounds will be ploughed into built infrastructure with tax breaks given for shale gas.
DEFRA’s recognition in the Chalara Control Plan of the value of the ObservaTREE project1 is welcome as is its commitment to make some additional funding available to accelerate this work. However, this is no substitute for the long term core funding needed, which DEFRA is clearly struggling to make the case for with the Treasury.
Woodland Trust Chief Executive Sue Holden said:
“There is a distinct lack of political interest in supporting the UK’s natural infrastructure despite the Government’s own figures valuing the benefits of our woods and trees at around £1.2bn a year2. It has been forced to focus its attention on ash dieback and it is clear the Government is playing scientific catch up, completely unprepared for the crisis our ash trees are now facing. Given the slow progress we are witnessing on ash, what hope does that offer in terms of the increasing range of pests and diseases threatening our woods and trees?
“Our natural infrastructure is suffering from chronic underfunding and is also at increasing risk from development. Government as a whole simply can not afford to ignore the benefits our trees and woods deliver. The consequences of doing so could be catastrophic, not only for the environment but for the UK economy too.”
The Trust is reassured by the interim conclusions of Professor Ian Boyd’s task force on the wider action needed to tackle tree disease, which was also published today. However there are no guarantees yet of the resources and commitment to see these through.