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RFS backs calls for Ash import ban
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RFS President, Nick Halsey

Date Issued: 10 October 2012


The Royal Forestry Society (RFS) is backing calls for stronger measures to ban imported ash trees to prevent ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea), the potentially devastating fungal disease, from becoming established in the UK. The Society is also urging woodland owners and others to take extra care to check the provenance of all seedlings, whips and young trees that they buy. Ash dieback has so far only been found in imported stock.

If ash dieback were to become established it could have devastating consequences for the countryside and for commercial forestry. Ash is the fourth most common woodland tree in Britain.

The RFS will be among organisations commenting on a formal Pest Risk Assessment consultation launched by the Food and Environment Agency (Fera).

RFS President Nick Halsey says: “The pace of global trade is now such that diseases and pests are able to spread far faster and wider than was the case just a few decades ago. We all need to take care that the trees we buy – whatever their species – are from a known provenance. Increasingly, the voluntary embargoes currently in use to try to contain specific fungal diseases or pests may not be enough to protect our woodland heritage.

“As an island nation we have a natural barrier to many airborne diseases in the form of the sea. We have an opportunity to prevent dieback of ash taking hold. If it spreads, this opportunity might not occur again.”

Ash dieback is widespread on the Continent and can kill trees. Common symptoms include black spots that can turn into cankers on the tree’s bark, brittle dying twigs and branches, and leaves turning brown or black and wilting before dropping off.

In Britain, symptoms have been found in trees imported from Holland and sold on by nurseries. Affected trees have been located in Leicestershire, West and South Yorkshire, Surrey, Cambridgeshire, County Durham and at Forestry Commission Scotland woodland at Knockmountain, near Kilmacolm, west of Glasgow.

Fera is working with nurseries to trace customers who have bought affected trees to ensure the trees are destroyed correctly. They are not sure how the fungus spreads locally, but it might be by rain splash or insects, and are carrying out tests to see whether it has already spread to wild ash trees near affected imported trees.

Suspected cases must be reported. Details of how to identify and report the disease and are available on the Forestry Commission web site at



Important information for visitors to woodlands

Please arrive in clean footwear - and scrub up again before leaving the venue.

The RFS follows the biosecurity measures recommended by the Forestry Commission (FC) and Defra to minimise the risk of spreading soil-borne tree infections. Clean boots are a first step!

For further information, please visit the Forestry Commission’s biosecurity page, which contains information about plant pests and diseases, plus downloadable posters and factsheets.