A draft action plan to address the spread of Chalara die-back of ash in Scotland took a step closer to being finalised today when it was considered at a stakeholders' summit held in Edinburgh.
Organisations from the forestry, environmental and land-based sectors discussed the action plan and also explored how to tackle the range of other tree health issues facing Scotland.
The plan needs to be completed within the next few weeks to inform decisions relating to the coming summer months when the disease becomes active again.
Chairing the Chalara summit, Environment & Climate Change Minister, Paul Wheelhouse said:
"In common with many other countries in the world, Scotland's trees, woodlands and forests are facing an unprecedented level of threat from pests and diseases, the latest of which is Chalara die-back of ash.
"Today's summit, the second one to be held in Scotland, will help finalise a Chalara action plan for Scotland in support of wider efforts across the British Isles to manage this disease. In doing so, we have taken the best scientific advice available as well as seeking expert opinion from the Scottish Tree Health Advisory Group.
"Chalara is here to stay but we can put in train measures to lessen its impact and, in lower risk areas in the remoter north and west, we might also be able to delay the onset of infection by taking targeted action to remove diseased young trees before they start to have a significant, wider affect."
The Tree Health Advisory Group, made up from a range of arboricultural and forestry organisations, has now met three times and has worked on detailed action plans for two other key diseases - Dothistroma needle blight on pine and Phytophthora ramorum on larch trees.
The Scottish Government is continuing to work closely with the UK Government on tree and plant health issues and is continuing to press for better controls on the international trade in plants across Europe through the current review of the EU Plant Health regime. The ban on ash plant imports and movement within the UK is still in place.
Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Government plant health inspectors are also stepping up surveillance activities. The huge public reaction to Chalara has kick started work to explore the potential of creating a network of trained observers.
Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor said:
"It's vital that the Scottish Government and the private sector work together effectively to reduce the impact of tree pests and diseases on Scotland's woodlands and forests. I welcome the Minister's prompt action and support for the sector."
Rory Syme from the Woodland Trust Scotland added:
"Scotland's ash trees and the species that depend on the habitat they provide face an uncertain future. A recent report has highlighted the very real chance that Chalara ash dieback could spread to many parts of Scotland in the next five years.
"We welcome the chance to be involved in shaping the Government's action plan on Chalara ash dieback and other threats to plant health such as Dothistroma needle blight, which affects Scots pine, so that we can help ensure the long term future of our woodlands in Scotland."
Ash represents less than 1% of Scotland's net woodland area, but that greatly underestimates its ecological value as it is an important component of some 150,000 ha of woodland and helps to support a diverse ground flora - as well as being critically important for a wide range of lichens, mosses, liverworts and fungi.
The countryside remains open and there is no risk to human health from Chalara. People who are visiting an infected or suspected wood should take sensible precautions when visiting and leaving the woodland such as removing any mud, plant material or leaves from boots, tyres and wheels of bicycles and buggies. No firewood, sticks or leaves should be removed.
For more advice on Chalara, please refer to the Forestry Commission's website www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara.