Will ash dieback mean dieback for panel report?

If it hadn’t been for the furore over the European Union budget at Westminster yesterday (Wednesday 31 October) events themed around trees, woods and forests could easily have been at the top of politicians’ radar again.

The former Chair of the Independent Panel on Forestry, the Bishop of Liverpool, was speaking at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry and indicated that there would be debates in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords on the government’s response to the Independent Panel’s report.  

And while Mr Speaker John Bercow MP was spearheading Parliament’s contribution to the  Woodland Trust’s Jubilee Woods project by planting an apple tree on Speaker’s Green, the Secretary of State was presiding at the National Forestry Stakeholder Forum at DEFRA’s offices.

Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP: “Emergency task force to be set up; plant health now a major priority for DEFRA”

 Compared with the consensual upbeat feel to the July meeting of stakeholders about the report of the Independent Panel on Forestry, yesterday’s crowded gathering attended by both the new Secretary of State and the new Forestry Minister, David Heath, was a much more sober affair, even though some speakers tried to inject notes of optimism into the proceedings.

The rapidly unfolding crisis of ash dieback was a big cloud hanging over the room. We learnt from the Secretary of State that DEFRA are now seeing plant health issues as a major issue to match animal health issues. He invited those present to an emergency summit next week on the disease and said that the Scientific Task Force to be chaired by DEFRA Chief Scientist Professor Ian Boyd will make an interim report by the end of November.

When we managed to lift our eyes to the longer term themes raised in the Panel report, discussion focused on trying to work out priorities and to tease out where government’s role ended and others began. We learned that the work within Forestry Commission and DEFRA to produce the government response was progressing on schedule and coming to fruition with some emerging conclusions but that it was still not too late for stakeholders to contribute. (And you can still support our call for action on the Panel’s report at http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/en/campaigning/our-campaigns/panel/Pages/forestrypanel.aspx.)

It was good to hear David Heath saying of ash dieback in the House of Commons on Monday 29 October that “we will not fail in our fight against this disease through lack of resources.” But the big unanswered question is whether resources will be simply be diverted to deal with the ash dieback crisis and leave no flexibility to support the future implementation of the Panel report. Surely if ever the Panel’s arguments about investing long term but modest sums of public money into the huge public benefits which woods and trees provide to our lives have any resonance, now is the moment for the government to accept this.

About Hilary Allison

Policy Director, Woodland Trust
This entry was posted in Defra, England, Forests Report, Government Affairs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Will ash dieback mean dieback for panel report?

  1. MRS MARY WRIGHT says:

    I am an 86yr.old lady living alone in a Bungalow,I have ash trees in my Garden,I don’t know if they are diseased or not,I can’t afford money to find out or pay for removal. Is there a danger of them falling on me or my Bungalow,they are pretty close

  2. Pip Pountney says:

    Shouldn’t all woodland management programmes that involve felling and removal of timber from site cease immediately? Forestry machinery engaged in felling trees and transport of wood will in fact carry this dreadful disease from one woodland to another. If cut wood is sold around a large area this will give further opportunity for the disease to travel. Remembering the foot and mouth outbreak – transporting animals cross country for any reason was banned to contain the disease. Shouldn’t the same practice apply?

  3. Alex Jones says:

    There is a private wood I have connections with in Colchester called Pitchbury Wood, so this ash dieback is a concern.

  4. Hilary Allison says:

    Rod – yep, I absolutely feel there is a sea-change in the way people are working together though as ever often inspired by a crisis. We have far more contact today than we ever did with CONFOR, ICF, CLA and so on; the thing the sector as a whole craves I would say is leadership, clear direction, and a champion and voice within government to support the many varied interests out there. FC has always been a small part of DEFRA and DEFRA is a small part of government. Once we have that then everyone will feel comfortable about their respective roles.

  5. Roderick Leslie says:

    Hilary, this is a thoughtful analysis and I very much agree with what you are saying: all too easy to lose sight of the long term, perhaps something that might suit some people in Government only too well. The whole issue does, however, raise again, if in entirely the wrong way, the priority and importance we attach to trees, woods and forests and I know you and I both feel that Government hasn’t just given less attention than we might like, but also than many, many people across the country, including the supporters of the woodland trust and the Forestry Commission National Forests.

    Having been at the All Party Group earlier in the day, you’ll appreciate both the irony and significance in my call for an identical task force approach to tackling the longer term issue of bringing our neglected woods back into sensitive, sustainable, wildlife rich management. If nothing else, what is happening here may divert Government from the drift towards scattering forestry across the Defra scene in a way which would have led to zero progress and the eventual loss of a forestry voice from Government.

    On the resources, at the very least there’s likely to be a check in further cuts to forestry and I’ve a sneaking suspicion that we’ll see some of the expertise the Government lost when it made many expert FC staff redundant creeping back as the demand for disease surveyors rockets.

    Already, thanks to a whole host of people & organisations across the forestry/woodland sector we are developing a new way of working where everyone is ready to pitch in, not simply sit back and expect Government to do everything whilst criticising its every move. That’s got to be the future: Government/Defra/FC doping the bits it needs to do, the statutory, the bits where the Government voice helps get things moving, but the handing over to the private & third sectors to take the work forward.

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