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Written Statement - Update on the Management of Tree Health in Wales 

Alun Davies AM, Minister for Natural Resources and Food

The Welsh Government’s forestry strategy ‘Woodlands for Wales’ describes a clear vision  for the creation of more diverse woodlands with a mixture of trees species that will be more resilient to the threat from invasive pathogens.

Pests and diseases of trees do not recognise borders therefore any response has to be based on good science in order to provide the evidence for the development of long term eradication or a management strategy across Great Britain.

The current outbreak of two serious tree diseases, Ramorum Disease of Larch (Phytophthora ramorum) and Ash Dieback (Chalara fraxinea) demonstrates the need for us to continue to work with UK and European partners such as the Forestry Commission (FC), the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) and Defra in the fight against pests and diseases that threaten our trees and woodlands.

In response to the rapid spread of P ramorum disease of larch, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has updated its plans for dealing with the disease in Wales and it has developed a set of actions to respond to the concerns of private woodland owners and the timber processing sector.

Working with private sector representatives, NRW has set out a series of measures to enable greater flexibility in managing the removal of large areas of infected larch to enable the timber processing industry to cope with the additional supply of larch timber and help to maintain its value. NRW is allocating additional resources to the management of this disease in order to support the harvesting of trees and to replant the cleared areas with new species.  NRW will suspend the public register element of the felling licence determination process in order to enable private woodland owners to remove and sell infected larch more quickly.  

Despite the considerable efforts of FC and NRW (on behalf of the Welsh Government) to manage the current increase in diseases affecting trees in Wales, I believe there is a need for better partnership working and co-ordination by the bodies with responsibility for our woodlands in order to ensure they are protected.

I have therefore decided to establish a Welsh Government-led group to bring together officials from the FC (who are delegated by the Welsh Ministers to work with NRW to deliver the Welsh Ministers’ functions in this area), NRW, representatives of the private woodland sector and timber processors to promote more co-ordinated handling of tree disease issues in Wales and to provide improved communication to the woodland sector and everyone with an interest in the environment. This group will consider the current strategy for dealing with P ramorum.

Although tree diseases are a very serious problem for the forestry industry in Wales we should not lose sight of the opportunity presented by P ramorum to replace larch with a range of other tree species in line with the Government’s wish expressed in its strategy Woodlands for Wales.  This will enable us to create more diverse woodlands that are more resistant to the effects of climate change and able to deliver a wider range of public benefits.

In addition to these actions the Welsh Government continues to support the delivery of the recommendations in the recent report of the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Taskforce.  This was set up by Defra working with the devolved administrations to improve the UK response to tree diseases.