UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 829-i

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Tree health and plant biosecurity

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Professor Ian Boyd, Martin Ward and Roger Coppock

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 86

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2.

Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

3.

Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.

4.

Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 11 December 2012

Members present:

Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair)

Barry Gardiner

Mrs Mary Glindon

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Martin Ward, Head of Policy Programme and UK Chief Plant Health Officer, Food and Environment Research Agency, and Roger Coppock, Head of Analysts, Forestry Commission, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome. May I thank each of you for agreeing to participate in our inquiry into tree health and biosecurity? I invite each of you to state who you are and the position that you hold for the record.

Martin Ward: Martin Ward, working for Defra as Chief Plant Health Officer for the UK.

Professor Boyd: Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser to Defra.

Roger Coppock: I am Roger Coppock, Head of Analysts at the Forestry Commission.

Q2 Chair: Excellent. Perhaps I should just declare at the outset that Fera is based in the constituency of Thirsk, Malton and Filey, which I am absolutely delighted about. If you agree, perhaps you do not all need to speak, but if you have additional things to say, please do. I shall ask first about this particular disease, ash tree dieback. It has existed in Poland since 1992, Denmark since 2003, and is understood to have been in this country since 2009. What do you think has changed, both in this country and across Europe, in the way that we both report, react to and try to prevent the spread of this and similar diseases?

Professor Boyd: I will probably take questions initially, and then direct them to my colleagues. First of all we need to understand the background to the uncertainty there was around the identity of this species of fungus, because that is one reason why the reaction right across Europe has been rather delayed. Nobody has really quite known until relatively recently what they have been looking at. So when you say, quite rightly, that it was identified in Poland in 1992, actually we did not really know what it was until well into the 2000s. Looking back in time, with the new knowledge that was available, allowed the identification of that disease syndrome right back to 1992.

Basically, the problem we have been facing is we have been working in an area of high scientific uncertainty, not just us in the UK but our European colleagues as well. We have been rapidly increasing our knowledge base to such an extent that in relatively recent years we have been able to identify the fungus causing this ash dieback syndrome as a species that was not present in the UK. We thought it was originally, but it was not present in the UK. One also has to bear in mind that ash dieback syndrome is caused by things other than Chalara as well, so it is quite a difficult thing for foresters to identify.

Ash dieback occurs quite regularly, but when it started to occur in the densities that it did in Europe, problems were suspected. It took basically 20 years for the science to catch up with those observations, so that is what has changed.

Q3 Chair: I am slightly concerned, just personally. What was the point of the consultation that the Government undertook? Mr Ward.

Martin Ward: Part of our risk-assessment process is to put the risk assessment based on the best information available to the official services into the public domain, pass it around stakeholders in order not only to gather views but to check that information against what is available to them. That is simply part of our routine process of risk assessment and risk management. Government does not necessarily know everything about the pathways or the risks. We frequently get useful additional information during the process of consultation, which then feeds into the decision taken on the appropriate risk-management measures. In this case there was also the factor that the main planting season is through the winter, so we were not losing anything in terms of effective control. So the consultation process is part of the routine for risk management and risk assessment.

Q4 Chair: Are we any closer to understanding both what causes the disease/fungus/pathogen, and what causes it to spread, and why it reacts one way in a sapling and another way in a matured tree?

Professor Boyd: I think we have a reasonably good understanding of what causes the disease, which is the spread of fungus within the tree. The disease is essentially the same in the sapling and the mature tree. It manifests itself in slightly different ways and it tends to kill saplings rather faster than mature trees. In terms of how it spreads, we also have a much better understanding of that now than we did have, although there are still gaps in our knowledge. It spreads during the summer from fruiting bodies that form on the fallen leaves from the previous year, and it spreads by spores. One of the gaps in our knowledge is that we do not quite know how long those spores survive. It is suspected to be a few days, and that is enough time for them to spread over quite substantial distances, considering that they are wind dispersed. So we know how it spreads, but we do not know how far it will spread in any particular summer period, for example.

Q5 Chair: Is it your intention to review practices such as exporting ash tree seeds from this country to elsewhere in the European Union, and then re-importing them as potentially diseased trees?

Professor Boyd: If I could turn your attention to the interim report of the task force that I established, one of their recommendations is that that type of behaviour should be reviewed. It did not specifically earmark exactly that export and then re-import process, but it did suggest we should review the type of biosecurity that is placed at the border, which would potentially catch that sort of import/export process. It would not necessarily stop it happening, but it would allow it to be properly risk assessed against the risks that occur in the locations where the seed might actually be propagated.

Q6 Chair: Mr Coppock, is there anything you would like to add?

Roger Coppock: Yes, I would just like to say that it is a practice that has been going on. I do not think it has been widely understood for quite some time, but it is a completely legal practice under the EU plant health rules. However, one of the encouraging things recently is that the sector, both in terms of growers and some of the plant producers, has decided that they need to get together to strengthen those rules that they employ voluntarily for better understanding of the chain of custody to make sure that seed from native trees does not go abroad to be grown and then bring back unwelcome visitors with it. Whether we want to regulate or not, an approach by the industry recognising that biosecurity is extremely important in this area, and them taking steps to deal with it, may be the most effective way of addressing it.

Q7 Chair: Mr Ward, is there anything you would like to add?

Martin Ward: Certainly, the sector is keen to obtain more transparency, and they have been in some cases surprised at what was happening to the plants that they were buying as UK provenance, which were indeed UK provenance in the sense they were UK seed but were grown abroad.

Q8 Chair: I do not understand enough about the economics. Why is it economical to take a native tree seed and export it abroad to re-import as a sampling? I simply do not understand the economics of it. Mr Coppock?

Roger Coppock: There are a number of arguments for that. One argument the growers suggest is that, because they do not have a full understanding of requirements for plants in any given year, they hedge their risks by growing a certain amount, say 50% or 60%, themselves, and then buy on the open market for the other 40%. There is a little bit of dubiety about when the demand is coming because it does tend to fluctuate. Decisions on planting are often not made until the year in which the planting is due to take place, whereas it takes the nurseries two or three years to grow the plants. The second reason is that it is often more profitable to grow plants abroad. European nurseries can produce a plant in two years that might take three years in the UK.

Q9 Chair: Why? How?

Roger Coppock: So that plant might cost 10p a tree as opposed to 30p a tree in the UK.

Q10 Chair: Can you just share with the Committee how that is so? Why would they grow more quickly?

Roger Coppock: Warmer growing conditions essentially, and more mechanised larger scale nursery practices.

Q11 Chair: Are you suggesting that Denmark is warmer than Britain?

Roger Coppock: I do not think Denmark in the main, but Germany and Hungary, for example, and some other European countries can grow the plants more quickly than we can.

Q12 Chair: One thing that is welcome, and we congratulate all of you involved, is the extensive survey that was undertaken in the very short time that it was. Perhaps the surprising thing was that this was the first survey of its kind. Should we be surprised that that was the first such survey, Mr Coppock?

Roger Coppock: Ideally, we would like to be doing much more regular surveys. We do have the National Forest Inventory, which is a major survey of all of the woodlands in Great Britain. Part of that survey is to look for signs of poor tree health. In the case of ash trees, a number of those in the survey have been flagged as showing some signs of ill health, but we have been out and re-inspected all those survey plots, and only a tiny percentage of those have been confirmed as having Chalara present in them. There is definitely a need for more surveillance in the future. One of the challenges we face is that we do not know exactly what we are looking for. There are a number of pests and diseases that are not present here at the moment, so it is just trying to get correct boundaries around that surveillance work to make sure we are putting resources in the right place.

Q13 Barry Gardiner: Chalara was first confirmed as being present in the UK in March this year. Even then, it was known that in the rest of Europe it had been a quite devastating disease. At that point, when it was confirmed that it was here, why then was there not a ban on imports from high-risk countries?

Professor Boyd: I will take that in two parts, if that is all right, and maybe pass over to Martin Ward afterwards. First of all, it was confirmed in nursery stock initially, and I think there was a consideration that that was an isolated case and it could be controlled by getting rid of that nursery stock.

Q14 Barry Gardiner: Professor Boyd, could you elaborate? Had the nursery stock been grown in that nursery? When you say "nursery stock", was it grown in the nursery or was it imported?

Professor Boyd: It was imported.

Q15 Barry Gardiner: So if it was imported, does that not suggest all the more that there should be a ban on imports?

Professor Boyd: Absolutely. Then a process was put in place that led to a ban on imports.

Q16 Barry Gardiner: That was a two-month delayed process.

Professor Boyd: A risk assessment had to be done. I will to pass Martin Ward, because he can provide you with information about the process that needs to be put in place in order to be able to come up with a ban under European regulations.

Martin Ward: I think we always have difficulty when we intercept a pest on a consignment in trade with imperfect knowledge, and the imperfect knowledge of the existing distribution of something. Clearly if something is already widespread in the UK, then a ban on imports is not going to help, quite regardless of EU legislation or WTO rules or whatever. If something is widespread, there is no point in trying to keep it out through an import ban.

In March, we knew we had that finding on that consignment, and knew we were entering into the period in which plants do not generally move around-through the summer. We did not know how widespread the disease was in the UK, and we did not at that stage have a risk assessment. We had a fairly weak evidence base in March for taking measures specifically against imports.

Q17 Barry Gardiner: Mr Ward, I have heard this argument before that says, "Well it was a time when there are very few movements of plants coming in, and that therefore justifies us not imposing a ban at that time." But surely the converse is true. Because there were few plants likely to come in anyway, imposing a ban at that time would have had no trade repercussions, and therefore all the fears that the Department has told us would have fallen down from the abyss of the Commission in Europe just would not have happened.

Martin Ward: I do not think I have ever referred to the Commission falling down on us in that way.

Barry Gardiner: I am sure you have not, Mr Ward.

Martin Ward: We need an evidence base in order to regulate, for our own stakeholders as well as for justification within the EU. In March we did not have that evidence base.

Q18 Barry Gardiner: What happened to the precautionary principle?

Martin Ward: We can apply the precautionary principle to some extent, but we still need some sort of assessment of risk.

Q19 Barry Gardiner: Let us look at that pest-risk analysis. You say you need an assessment of risk. In October 2008, a letter was sent to the European Commission stating that: "The UK believes C Fraxinea warrants listing in the Plant Health Directive," and pest-risk analysis was then in preparation. That was in 2008 in your own chronology. So then halfway through 2012, you say, "Oh well, we needed to conduct a proper analysis of the risk.". Four years later. What was going on?

Roger Coppock: The scientific evidence that the pathogen that we were trying to risk assess was not present in the UK was not there at that time. That was the crucial thing. It was this misdiagnosis of the causal agent that was the reason for all of the delay. The naturally occurring pathogen-

Barry Gardiner: This is Hymenoscyphus albidus.

Roger Coppock: Hymenoscyphus albidus, yes. That was what had been described as the causation of Chalara fraxinea in the literature. It was only in 2011 that the science was reviewed and a new paper came out that indicated that Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus was the causal agent. One could argue the scientists were not thorough enough in describing that, but there is a paper that is fairly soon to be published-it has not been published yet-looking at the origins of this pathogen. That describes the difference between the two as being almost infinitesimal. There are very, very minor morphological differences, so one can understand the reason why it was wrongly diagnosed at the time. Because it was wrongly diagnosed and Hymenoscyphus albidus was already present in the UK, and had been since the early 1900s, there was no case for taking action against it because it was already here.

Q20 Barry Gardiner: Well, that was one paper, Mr Coppock, but there was another paper published in March 2010 that correctly identified the fungus causing ash dieback as one not found in the UK. Molecular studies backing that up were also published in 2011. So why was no apparent action taken in 2011 to pursue the pest-risk analysis and ensure that work on a possible ban could be started before the disease was detected in the UK?

Roger Coppock: We did start on a pest-risk analysis in 2011 once that new evidence came out. The difficulty was that we were already dealing with a number of outbreaks of other pests and diseases at that time. The record will show that the number of pathologists available in Britain to deal with some of these pests and diseases is very small at the present time. Ideally, we would have liked to have got the pest-risk analysis done more rapidly than we did do, but we were dealing with fires at home at the time.

Q21 Barry Gardiner: Thank you. That, I think, begins to come to an explanation of why things did not happen. What you have pointed the finger at is a lack of personnel or resource at that time.

Roger Coppock: I would say that was one reason. The other reason was a lack of sound, hard scientific evidence.

Q22 Barry Gardiner: Well, we had the scientific evidence of that paper and the further biological studies in 2011, did we not?

Roger Coppock: That was identifying the causal agent. To do a pest-risk analysis, you need more than one paper. You need a body of scientific evidence to back up the assumptions within the pest-risk analysis.

Q23 Barry Gardiner: Indeed. Right, let me try to assess the impact of what you have just told me. In June 2011, the Forestry Commission said there was a high risk of the introduction of the disease into the UK. Is that right?

Roger Coppock: Yes.

Q24 Barry Gardiner: And it recommended that ash plants should be sourced from a pest-free area. Is that correct?

Roger Coppock: Yes.

Q25 Barry Gardiner: So, what we are saying is more than a year before a ban was actually put in place, the Forestry Commission-you, presumably at the Forestry Commission-had recommended that plants should only be sourced from a pest-free area and there was a risk of introduction into the UK. It had at that stage been correctly identified that there had been a misdiagnosis, and that the pathogen was not currently known in the UK and there was a risk of cross-infection. So when that recommendation was made, that they should only be sourced from a pest-free area, why at that point did we not go into the eight-week consultation period that caused delay after the correct identification of the disease as being present in March of 2012?

Roger Coppock: That was because we did not have the pest-risk analysis completed at that point.

Q26 Barry Gardiner: You are saying that the pest-risk analysis was an essential element of going into that consultation about imposing a ban?

Roger Coppock: Absolutely. If we are going to put legislation in place, which may well affect many, many businesses-

Q27 Barry Gardiner: No, sorry, we are not talking about legislation at this moment, are we? What we are talking about is imposing a precautionary ban until we have further information.

Roger Coppock: Well, I think we would need to put an order in place in order to put a ban in place.

Q28 Barry Gardiner: An order is not legislation, though, is it?

Chair: It is secondary legislation.

Barry Gardiner: Well, it is a regulation.

Roger Coppock: It is regulation.

Chair: One last answer and then we will move on.

Professor Boyd: Can you take up that point about legislation?

Martin Ward: Yes, we operate under the Plant Health Act, but a ban would need to be done by an order, a negative resolution SI under the Plant Health Act, as was done in October, in order to restrict imports and movements.

Professor Boyd: I think the general point is we have to proceed under the banner of evidence, and the pest-risk assessment was the accumulation of the evidence that would allow us to put in place appropriate legislation to ban imports.

Q29 Barry Gardiner: But that was not done in 2011 when it was recommended by the Forestry Commission.

Roger Coppock: We recommended to the industry that it adopted a voluntary position on import.

Q30 Barry Gardiner: What mechanisms do you have for ensuring that the pest-risk analysis process can be expedited in the event of detection of such highly damaging pests and pathogens in the UK?

Roger Coppock: A pest-risk analysis requires a degree of specialism to carry out, because it is a very exact sort of science. We are putting in place at the moment a greater number of people who can at least undertake the preliminary work of pest-risk analysis and get the main bulk of the work done, and then get it signed off by the more expert pathologists or entomologists in that case. That is what we are trying to do at the present time in order to expedite these more rapidly in the future.

Professor Boyd: Maybe I could also add, going back to my original point about the scientific uncertainty that exists, that at that time the Tree Health Expert Group had identified up to 28 different pathogens that were threatening our shores, essentially. The amount of evidence that is required in order to be able to develop a pest-risk analysis for all of those is enormous, so there was a huge task there. It is very easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to look back and say, "Actually, you should have done it this way." Yes, we maybe should have done, but it is very difficult to pick the winners from all those 28, or the losers, if you like.

Q31 Barry Gardiner: What is the cost of all those 28, Professor Boyd, and what is the cost of having sufficient resource to expedite pest-risk analysis on them?

Professor Boyd: I could not answer that question at the moment. That was the reason for setting up the task force.

Q32 Barry Gardiner: My point to you is that the downside risk from Chalara fraxinea and all those other pathogens and pests is enormous.

Chair: I think we need to move on now. I am sure you can write to us with a figure.

Professor Boyd: We are aware of that, and the task force has made that absolutely clear. We need to move to a different form of risk analysis.

Q33 Mrs Glindon: A key element of your control plan for Chalara, published last week, was the need to reduce the rate of its spread. What impact do you expect the actions in the plan to have? For example, what numbers of trees can be saved, and which geographical areas might be spared?

Professor Boyd: The number of trees that can be spared is something we cannot be specific about at this stage. We do know the fungus is present in quite high concentrations in very specific areas, particularly the south west, Kent and East Anglia, and to a lesser extent up the east coast of England and into southeast Scotland. Within those areas we would expect significant proportions of the ash population to currently be affected but probably relatively few trees there to have died yet. It will take a number of years before those trees will succumb, and maybe not all will succumb because the vulnerability of the ash trees depends very much on circumstance.

The models that we have produced of the epidemiology, the spread of the disease, suggest that it may take several years for it to spread across England. They suggest that even by 2017 it would not really be present in very many areas in northwest England, for example, or southern Scotland. Even in areas where it is found, many of the ash trees will be affected but they will be able to survive. We do know that it is not Chalara that actually kills adult ash trees. It is usually honey fungus or some other stressor that kills it because the tree itself has been stressed by the Chalara infection. In general, we would expect a slow spread across England and not all areas to be affected to the same extent.

Q34 Mrs Glindon: How will you determine what your control plan refers to as a proportionate balance between the costs and benefits of action to stop the spread of the disease?

Roger Coppock: One of the difficulties with this is that often the people who bear the costs are not the ones who gain the benefits of taking such action. Part of the control plan acknowledges that eradication is unlikely to be possible. So what are the key areas that we need to try to protect for as long as we can to allow us to try to find some natural resistance within the existing ash population from which we can breed and then bring it back into the natural environment?

The modelling work that Professor Boyd referred to is looking at targeting specific areas with information such as special nature reserves, sites of special scientific interest-if you like, the crown jewels of the ash population-and also areas where there is a large concentration of ash. The aim then will be to concentrate our control efforts on trying to reduce the inoculum levels within those areas to give those important sites as long as possible to survive, and hopefully this natural resistance will manifest itself.

Q35 Mrs Glindon: What advice has Defra so far provided to the public nurseries and NGOs on minimising the spread of the disease?

Martin Ward: The advice comes in two parts. There is advice on basic biosecurity measures. In the case of Chalara, those are relatively straightforward compared with some tree diseases. As Professor Boyd said, the spores are considered to be relatively shortlived, and it is really the movement of leaves that is to be avoided during the winter. So that is simply a matter of not carrying leaves and leaf litter from one place to another.

The other part of the advice, which is more complicated and we have more work to do on, is around disposal of leaf litter, particularly composting and waste disposal streams from local authorities. We expect composting to be effective in substantially reducing the risks, but it may not eliminate them entirely, so the guidance will need to be adapted according to whether there is a risk of moving the disease into new areas or whether the leaf litter and the compost resulting from the leaf litter remains in the same areas where it originates. That clearly does not present a risk of spread to new areas.

Q36 Mrs Glindon: There was some advice given to the public to wash children, dogs and vehicles. Do you think that was effective?

Martin Ward: There are two different sets of advice. There is general biosecurity advice, which has to cover a range of different pests and pathogens. For example, Phytophthora ramorum is carried on spores in soil, so if you are going to eliminate the risk of moving it from one wood to another, then scrubbing soil off boots is a necessary part of that. In the case of Chalara alone, it is a simpler biosecurity process because it is leaves rather than soil that are the carrier.

Q37 Mrs Glindon: Would that advice still be given out by Defra regarding cleaning and washing vehicles, dogs, or children’s hands?

Martin Ward: There is general biosecurity advice that has been developed by Defra, Fera and the Forestry Commission over the last few years. Initially it particularly focused on fighting off ramorum; more recently it has been under the public engagement strand of the Tree and Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan. It has to pitch the right balance between being rigorous and practical. It is about the reduction of risk, not elimination. It is the reduction of the amount of soil and leaf material being moved from one place to another.

Chair: Well, we certainly do not want people to stop visiting woods and forests.

Martin Ward: Absolutely not.

Q38 Chair: The Secretary of State has said that he wants to see a sea change in the way the Government and its advisers respond to plant health incidents. Professor Boyd, you mentioned 28 potential risks. Do you think there has been a change in the sense of urgency after Chalara fraxinea?

Professor Boyd: My view is, yes, there is a high sense of urgency. There is a realisation that plant biosecurity is something that should be treated with the same seriousness as animal biosecurity. Again, that was one of the reasons for calling a task force together-to look at how plant biosecurity could be improved to the same extent as animal biosecurity. In fact, it is a more challenging problem than animal biosecurity, because we have more pathogens to deal with and more routes of import for pathogens, or pathways as we call them. All those have to be risk assessed properly, and potentially controlled, using a variety of different methodologies. We need time to consider all those potential methodologies, but the Secretary of State has made it absolutely clear that this is a very high priority for the future.

Q39 Chair: In terms of plant disease and those owners, public or private, that have lost or will be losing trees, is the compensation between animal health outbreaks and plant health outbreaks equivalent?

Professor Boyd: There is no equivalence at the moment. I have to say it is not within our remit to be able to respond to questions about compensation. All I will say is that the Department has made it clear that at the moment compensation is not being considered for plant disease.

Q40 Chair: In terms of encouraging the growth of indigenous trees and plants that grow naturally in this country, what more can be done? Should there be voluntary or statutory means to encourage people to plant disease-free healthy trees and plants?

Professor Boyd: Again, I would point to the task force report. I would also say it is an interim report, so the task force is still working on this. There are quite a number of recommendations there about what can be done by Government, but there are also many recommendations about what can be done by the public and by the industry. I think it will be a combination of all those, including the voluntary sector, both in terms of surveillance for new diseases and in terms of trying to reinvigorate our woodlands and our forests with new types of planting regimes, using both our native species and some introduced species as well.

There are silvicultural methods available to help our forests recover from some of the challenges that they are currently experiencing, not just from Chalara but from some of the other pathogens that have been described. So I think this is going to be a joint effort. The Government is obviously willing to take a lead on this, but what they must do is make sure that what it is doing is evidence based.

Q41 Chair: Do you think that failure to provide any financial support might be a reason for people not to report a diseased tree?

Professor Boyd: I probably could not comment on individual motivations. Clearly, there will be motivations both ways, but at the moment I think the position is that financial support will not be given.

Q42 Barry Gardiner: In Europe we know there has been quite a devastating attack on forests. Are the trees that have suffered ash dieback there being turned into biomass chips and imported into the UK?

Roger Coppock: Our understanding at the present time is that there is not a large market for biomass chips coming into the UK. There is some firewood coming in from Belgium, which we believe to be dried firewood as opposed to green firewood, which carries a higher risk with it. We are currently conducting an assessment of that trade to understand its nature and where it is coming in.

Q43 Barry Gardiner: So once you have conducted the risk assessment, will you then conduct the consultation about stopping it?

Roger Coppock: No, we need to understand the nature of that trade; we do not know at the moment how extensive it is and where it is going to. If we then decide that it poses a risk, we could instigate, if we choose, an order based on the existing pest-risk assessment.

Q44 Barry Gardiner: Forgive me, but this has got to sound pretty odd to any member of the public listening. They will say, "You have all these trees. They are dead. Presumably somebody has wondered if they are still infectious in some way, so somebody has got to think about their disposal." What you are saying is here we have a disease that has been known about on the continent for many years. Although improperly understood before, as you have explained, for a number of years it has been properly understood. Yet you are saying that only now is a risk analysis being carried out about how safe it is to dispose of trees that have died from Chalara fraxinea.

Roger Coppock: No, that is not what I am saying.

Q45 Barry Gardiner: So has that risk analysis been carried out on the continent or elsewhere?

Roger Coppock: The pest-risk analysis has been carried out, which is why we have banned the import or the movement of plants at the present time. That risk analysis assessed the risk of onward infection from timber and firewood, and that risk was determined to be low because the fungal body does not, as far as know, sporulate on timber or pieces of firewood. If we employ an order to ban the movement of firewood and potentially also the movement of timber, that does not just ban the movement of wood coming into the UK; it bans the movement of wood within the UK. That would have a major impact on the firewood industry in the UK and the way in which we can deal with the ongoing disposal process, if you like, of damaged trees. So we do need to take careful consideration of exactly what that trade is and the threat it represents before we put an order in place.

Q46 Barry Gardiner: I do not doubt that, but we are seeking clarity here. So first of all, what level of infection risk has been determined to remain from felled trees or wood that is or could be used as biofuel?

Roger Coppock: The risk is low, as long as twigs and leaves are not transmitted with that wood.

Q47 Barry Gardiner: Right, so it is a low risk, but there is a risk. Is the Government planning any additional restrictions on the use or movement of ash as a biofuel or as a wood product as a result of that risk assessment?

Roger Coppock: At the present time, no.

Q48 Barry Gardiner: Why?

Chair: For the reason he just said.

Roger Coppock: Because we are conducting this survey at the moment to look at-

Barry Gardiner: Sorry, you told me that a risk assessment has been done and the risk has been assessed as low.

Roger Coppock: Yes.

Q49 Barry Gardiner: So it is not that the risk assessment has not been done. It has. So now surely you need to have a consultation on what to do about that low risk.

Roger Coppock: We are trying to make sure that the firewood coming in from the continent is dry firewood, free of twigs and leaves, and is not green firewood. That is what represents the risk, not necessarily moving wood and timber from a site within the UK.

Q50 Barry Gardiner: So you are saying that you have assessed there is a low risk.

Roger Coppock: Yes.

Q51 Barry Gardiner: That low risk comes from impurities that might be imported with the timber itself.

Roger Coppock: No, the low risk comes from the fact that the fungus does not sporulate on the timber. If it comes with twigs or leaves, then it represents a high risk, or a higher risk.

Q52 Barry Gardiner: So it is the quality control. If it is simply the timber, it is a low risk.

Roger Coppock: Yes.

Q53 Barry Gardiner: But if that timber is contaminated with twigs or leaves, it represents a high risk. So my question still remains: what is the Government now contemplating doing about stopping the movements, or ensuring that they are quality controlled such that that high risk does not manifest itself?

Roger Coppock: We are ascertaining at the moment exactly what the nature of the trade is that is coming into the country to see whether it represents a high risk or whether it continues to represent a low risk.

Q54 Chair: Would you say it was a high or low level of trade?

Roger Coppock: Again, we are not exactly sure at the present time whether it is a high or low level of trade, which is why we are trying to do this very rapidly to determine the market.

Q55 Chair: Just to repeat the answer that you gave to Mr Gardiner earlier, if you imposed a ban on this import, you would effectively have to impose a ban on all internal movements of firewood and timber in the UK.

Roger Coppock: Yes.

Q56 Chair: On what basis?

Roger Coppock: On the basis of European regulations. What applies in one country has to apply equally.

Q57 Chair: No. The European rules, as I understand them, and it was previously Article 36, are that on grounds of public health, plant health included, you can reject imports from another EU country. Unless the law has changed radically, it would still allow internal movements of that product. Could you possibly do a note for us?

Roger Coppock: I will do a note. I will have to clarify that position for you.

Chair: Barry, are you happy with that?

Q58 Barry Gardiner: Yes. It does seem to me, Chair, that there are two elements here. One is the quality of the import, and the other is the quantity-the volume of the imports. What I thought our witness said was that nobody is quite sure what the volume of those imports is, but if they are contaminated by twigs or leaves, they represent a high risk. I absolutely want to get that confirmed so that it is clear. Those imports that are coming in may represent a high risk. At the moment the Government does not know how much is coming in but is still reluctant at this stage to ban them on a precautionary basis, despite the fact that you, Chair, have said to us that in fact cross-border movements through the EU could be banned on the grounds of public health.

Roger Coppock: I will have to clarify that point because that is obviously crucial to the discussion.

Chair: If you could, because it is rather important.

Professor Boyd: Can I just re-emphasise that we cannot act without evidence? We do have to move forward based on knowledge of what those imports are and whether there is actually a risk there.

Chair: The disease has been found for well over eight months in this country, and it is frankly quite staggering that you are not in a position to say, since presumably imports would have been one of the earliest things you would have looked at. I know Drax, the power station in Selby, imports huge amounts of woodchip from potentially third countries and EU countries. It is quite staggering that we do not have that information before the Committee today.

Q59 Barry Gardiner: Chair, could I ask for a further note of precisely what information the Government has, or research it has done, on the quality and quantity of imports of ash timber, whether for power station use as biomass or in any other form, so that we actually know what, four months on, has been done to look at this?

Chair: Okay. Sorry, if it is only four months. I misled the Committee.

Barry Gardiner: September, October, November, December-yes.

Professor Boyd: We will certainly provide you with that note. We did, however, consider at some length the risks associated with movement of ash wood. As Roger Coppock has said, those were considered to be low, and when I say low, I mean really very low. It would need a very special set of circumstances to present a risk of moving Chalara using that pathway, as we would call it, or that mode of transport. Relative to the many other risks we are looking at, that was considered to be extremely small.

Chair: Okay, but we would like a note, please.

Q60 Mrs Glindon: In some countries that have been affected by Chalara, trees have been shown to have partial resistance to the disease. What is your assessment of the potential for ash trees resistant to ash dieback being able to repopulate areas of significant ash loss? And what is the likely timescale for any resurgence of ash in the UK?

Professor Boyd: There is clear evidence from the continent that there is a small proportion, probably 1% or less, of ash trees that have a certain degree of resistance to Chalara. That is almost certainly genetically based. That presents an opportunity for us to propagate or breed from that stock more resistant stock in the UK.

In terms of timescales, that depends very much on the kinds of characteristics we are looking at and the capacity we have to develop genetic markers. When I say genetic markers, I mean being to able to provide a diagnostic test that will allow us to go out into the countryside, pick an ash tree and decide whether or not it has the genetic resistance. It will also depend on how quickly we can find and propagate ash trees of British origin that have that resistance. However, trees do not grow quickly, and I suspect that it will be a decade or so before that discovery will have a significant impact on both the trade and the silvicultural practice that there is within the UK. So I would say probably about 10 years, even if we start now to propagate these trees, because by 10 years old an ash tree is still not all that large.

Q61 Mrs Glindon: But you are hopeful that that will possibly be a window for something positive to happen?

Professor Boyd: Absolutely. We are very hopeful, and in fact we are conducting a science workshop on Thursday of this week that brings specialist scientists together to consider how we are going to develop the research programme around genetic resistance in ash.

Q62 Mrs Glindon: What monitoring arrangements are there to ensure that nurseries do not sell on plants or trees infected with any disease or pest?

Martin Ward: There are some within the EU plant passports applied to those plants that pose specific risk. There is a whole range of pests and pathogens that are known to be present in the EU, and there are arrangements whereby nurseries who are authorised can apply plant passports to those plants to say that they meet requirements to ensure they are free. That might simply be inspection of the plants, but more often they come from an area free, or the place of production has been inspected and found free, or sometimes that the plants have been tested and found free where symptoms are not obvious. The proposed revision of the EU regime would bring all plants for commercial purposes within the scope of that plant passport system.

Q63 Mrs Glindon: Do you think the monitoring that exists currently is adequate?

Martin Ward: We are looking at the moment at whether there is a need to step up specific monitoring against some specific risks, even where they are covered by the plant passport regime. Clearly, like any regulatory regime, it is not perfectly applied. That is why we carry out monitoring, and we are reviewing our monitoring at present.

Q64 Barry Gardiner: You will recall that in July 2011, Lord Krebs put a question to the then Minister as to whether Natural England was responsible for surveillance to prevent the spread of disease in trees. On that occasion, Jim Paice responded that: "Nobody has the specific responsibility for surveillance." Do you think, in the light of events since then, that is still an adequate answer?

Professor Boyd: I cannot comment on the specifics of that answer. All I can say is that surveillance is in place, and the Forestry Commission has carried out surveillance recently and continues to do so, as does Fera in the nursery trade. We have identified, however, that that surveillance could be increased and done probably more intelligently than it has been in the past by looking towards where the greatest risks lie. In other words, identifying where the risk factors sit and focusing surveillance activities on particularly high-risk pathways for introduction of pathogens, locations and other activities. Basically, I think surveillance does happen, but it could be a lot better than it is at the moment.

Q65 Barry Gardiner: Professor, you have rerouted my question. I did not just ask about surveillance; I asked about responsibility for surveillance. My question was not how we can do surveillance better, which I think is a legitimate question. I am glad to know these matters are under review. My specific question was: should someone now, as a Minister, have responsibility for that surveillance so that there is a clear line of responsibility and people know that there is a Minister in charge responsible for ensuring that this happens?

Professor Boyd: I think it is probably not my place to respond to that. I am here to respond to questions about the evidence. I would say that is already in place in terms of ministerial responsibility for surveillance. I go back to my previous response, which says that there is surveillance in place, and we are working on actually improving that surveillance methodology.

Q66 Barry Gardiner: With respect, that is to contradict what Jim Paice said to the Committee before. He quite specifically said nobody has the specific responsibility for surveillance. So either he was wrong then, or, thank goodness, things have changed, in which case please advise us what has changed and which Minister is now responsible.

Professor Boyd: As I said, I cannot comment on the previous response.

Barry Gardiner: You just did. I thought you just said that there was somebody now who did have that responsibility.

Professor Boyd: I am a chief scientific adviser, and I report to ministers. I see surveillance in place, and that surveillance is reported through to ministers.

Q67 Barry Gardiner: Let us go to the official bodies rather than the ministers. The task force noted that the function of the UK Plant Health Strategy Board, which aims to co-ordinate the plant health strategy between the official bodies-including the devolved administrations-required further consideration to strengthen and clarify its strategic aims and the relationship with the proposed Chief Plant Health Officer. How is that going to be done?

Professor Boyd: At the moment I cannot answer that because the interim task force report has just been produced, and it is an interim report. The final report will be produced in March, and ministers will then respond to it in whatever way they choose thereafter. So there is no action following on from this interim report at this stage.

Q68 Barry Gardiner: Why is it not possible for an existing post to take on the role of Chief Plant Health Officer? Why has it not been part of the work of the Chief Plant Health Officer in Fera?

Professor Boyd: What the task force really identified was that aligning plant health and biosecurity with animal health and biosecurity arrangements was desirable. In order to do that, it was necessary to have a Chief Plant Health Officer who had an equivalence to the Chief Veterinary Officer and could essentially stand outside the line of management and challenge the process. We do not have that at this point, and the task force recommended that we ought to have that.

Q69 Barry Gardiner: So why has it taken so long to implement that? Surely that could just be done, could it not? If it is a recommendation and everybody agrees with it, why has somebody not said, "Hey, great idea; let’s do it"?

Professor Boyd: The report was published last Thursday, and it is an interim report. I think there is a head of steam behind implementing many of the recommendations, but until the recommendations are firmed up by the task force in March, I would have said that it would be premature to respond to them, because the task force itself is still sitting, meeting and considering its response. It was asked to give some initial views, and those are its initial views.

Barry Gardiner: So what of the other 28 pathogens and vectors of disease still waiting?

Q70 Chair: We need to move on. What do you think the role of the horticultural and wood timber industry should be in this scenario of plant health?

Martin Ward: I think it is very important that we continue to work with all the industries that are involved. There is a wide range of different sectors, and I think we have tended to work with them on a sector-by-sector basis on specific pest and disease problems. I think increasingly we should be engaging them, and are, on plant health at a more strategic level. We have a recently established stakeholder advisory forum, for example, helping to develop the UK’s negotiating lines for review of the EU regime at the strategic level. At the very practical level, we need to involve all the industries, NGOs and stakeholder groups in surveillance, for example. There are some organisms for which having many millions of people out there looking for the organism is much more effective than official surveillance. Also, of course, the outbreak management team needs to work with them closely, as we have been doing on Chalara, on the response to findings on eradication and containment measures when there is a finding of a quarantine organism.

Q71 Chair: The Independent Panel on Forestry report talks of grants and other support being given to public forest estate management for engaging with local communities. But do you think private growers are guided by the grants and support that is available as to what type of tree or plant they grow?

Roger Coppock: I think it would be fair to describe private owners, particularly in the forestry industry, as extremely individual. They have their own very clear aims and objectives. The role of the Forestry Commission in terms of providing grants, support and guidance is to help them achieve those aims and objectives. So whilst obviously grants are targeted at achieving a number of outcomes, for example an increase in forest area, healthy forest estates and that sort of thing, we try not to be too prescriptive and to allow owners to choose the route that best suits their desires and objectives in terms of how they manage the land.

Q72 Chair: Might they be tempted to go for more exotic plants and trees because there is a grant or support available, rather than indigenous trees, or, for example, import them because they grow more quickly in another country?

Roger Coppock: I think Britain has one of the longest experiences in the world of afforestation, given that our forest estate was less than 5% of the land area at the early part of the last century. It now comprises about 13% of the land area, and most of that has been nonnative species. There have been more native species planted recently, and the grant schemes have very much been encouraging that, but I think the simple commercial facts are that the non-native species, with the exception of Scots pine, for example, are the ones that drive and support the wood and timber processing sector. They are the ones that make the returns to owners.

I do not think that owners are going to start going down hugely different routes at the present time, because at the moment, unless we start to lose species through pest and disease issues, they have a fairly good track record. They know how species are going to perform in a UK climate and the sorts of returns they will provide to them. However, the Forestry Commission is constantly updating its guidance and its research into what alternatives might be possible, and trying to think through the ramifications if people were to start to use them rather than just allowing people to go ahead.

Q73 Chair: Are you concerned about the lack of plant health experts in academia in the UK?

Professor Boyd: Yes, I am actually. We need to introduce more university courses that will produce larger numbers of people who are trained in plant pathology, and we need to do that through partnership schemes between the research institutions that we have in place at the moment and the universities. I am not saying that there has not been appropriate stewardship of this in the past, but I think the rising realisation of the challenge we have from plant pathogens means we need to meet that challenge with greater expertise in the marketplace.

Q74 Chair: I am staggered, just looking at the range and number. There are three departments that look at tree and plant health within the umbrella of Defra. There are the research institutions, charitable institutions like the Woodland Trust, and there is the industry. It is absolutely staggering, so there is obviously scope for either duplication or omission there. What do you think the role of the industry should be in examining plant health? Should there be an equivalent of an animal husbandry levy, or do you think that would be inappropriate?

Professor Boyd: Once again, I think that extends beyond the remit that we have, which is basically to talk mainly about the evidence. That is a response to the evidence. In terms of skills, we need higher levels of skills across the industry, as well as across Government, academia, and the non-Government sector. If we do achieve the objectives of having higher levels of skills, we will have an embedded capability there to identify plant disease at an earlier stage than we can at the moment. That will mean there is almost automatic surveillance. If all our foresters have the capability of identifying new pathogens, then there are many eyes and ears out there looking for these challenges, and we would be in a much better position than we are now.

Q75 Chair: Did you want to add anything, Mr Ward?

Martin Ward: On the non-forestry side, we certainly have got links with the levy bodies on potatoes and horticulture and arable crops, including discussions on where the boundaries fall between organisms under statutory control, which have tended to be researched with public funds, and those where statutory measures are not taken, where the funding has tended to come from the levy bodies. Sometimes those discussions take place during a consultation on what the policy should be on a new organism. We have had that recently on Drosophila suzukii, for example, a fruit fly coming in, where the horticultural levy body has taken responsibility for co-ordinating control on that pest rather than having it done on a statutory basis.

Q76 Chair: I am going to ask Professor Boyd to comment on this, because I think it will be difficult for Fera or the Forestry Commission to comment. From where I sit, I would have thought that Fera was in a strong position, being outside Defra and being slightly independent of the Government, but having a link to industry. Am I right, Professor Boyd, that you have made a recommendation that Fera be more closely linked to Defra? The Committee would be interested to know your thinking about how to improve the governance on plant health issues.

Professor Boyd: Well, the Forestry Commission is actually further afield from Defra then Fera, which is really a part of Defra; it is a research agency within Defra. I think there are arguments in both directions. It think there are very good arguments for saying that high-quality research and monitoring surveillance capability has to be close to Government and has to be an arm of Government. There are also arguments for saying there is strength in an independent research sector that is there not just to pursue its own interests within the context of plant biosecurity but is also there to challenge as well. We have both of those, to some extent, but we probably need to strengthen both of them. With respect to Fera itself, I do not believe I am on record as saying it should be closer or further away from Government. It does an excellent job, and both Fera and the Forestry Commission have done really fantastic jobs over the last month or so with the challenge that we have just had. It shows that when we are challenged, we can step up and make sure that the response is appropriate. In the fullness of time we can look at that again and assess the lessons we have learned from the relationships there are between the Forestry Commission, which is slightly more distant, and Fera, which is really very close to Government, and ask whether that balance is absolutely correct. My suspicion is it is probably not quite right, but at this stage I would not like to say which direction it should go in.

Chair: It is always good to talk, I am sure, but I am very pleased to hear what you said about the two organisations.

Q77 Barry Gardiner: Professor Boyd, I want to ask you about plant movement controls, but before I do I just want to make sure that it is worthwhile. The reason I say that is because there has been quite a dispute about how Chalara fraxinea came to the UK in the first place. Ministers seem to have adopted a very carefully worded phrase, which is that dispersal from the continent is "consistent with the science". I have no doubt it is consistent with the science, but I wanted to ask you what is most likely. Is it most likely, as in the original report that members received, that it came in through seedlings imported from the continent and may have spread from nursery to nursery, or from nursery out into planting from there? Or is it most likely that it was dispersed from the wind from Denmark, Poland or somewhere else on the continent?

Professor Boyd: That is an interesting question.

Barry Gardiner: I expect it was one that your ministers asked you.

Professor Boyd: It is. I will give you a scientist’s response.

Barry Gardiner: Well, give me the answer you gave to them.

Professor Boyd: Yes, exactly. There is a weight of evidence. It is selfevident that Chalara was imported. The real question is whether that resulted in spread into the wider environment, or is the presence in the wider environment more consistent with a hypothesis of spread by wind from the continent? The weight of evidence, and I can come to the evidence in a minute, suggests that the spread in the wider environment is probably from wind dispersal from the continent.

There are a number of lines of evidence that support that. First of all, there is a negative one, which is that despite surveys around areas where Chalara has been actively introduced by people, we see no infection in the wider environment. The second, however, is the fairly obvious geographical distribution of Chalara within the UK, which is consistent with it coming from a nearby source on the continent. The third is that we know that Chalara spores are dispersed by wind and have the capability of surviving long enough to be carried on the wind to the UK. The fourth is that we have run some very sophisticated models of particle dispersion using historical meteorological records, and those show during the summer season, when Chalara is sporing, that there are quite a variety of scenarios that would bring Chalara spores over the UK. The latest simulation has shown that they could come from as far as central Germany and Norway, so there is no doubt in my mind that Chalara has the capacity to spread from the continent on the wind to the UK.

The big question is: did it? Of course, that is a very difficult thing to answer. It may be possible with genetics, for example, eventually to show that, but it is a slightly academic point at this stage. We have Chalara in the country and we have to be able to control it. It would be useful to know that answer for future pathogens, to be able to understand how they may well spread. So essentially the weight of evidence suggests the spread in the wider environment in the UK has come from overseas.

Q78 Barry Gardiner: It is not just the weight of evidence. We know it has come from overseas. The question is: has it come in seedlings or was it wind borne?

Professor Boyd: The weight of evidence suggests it has come mainly on the wind. I am not denying that it has been brought in by people, but the question is whether it has actually led to a spread in the wider environment. The answer to that is: probably not, at this stage.

Q79 Barry Gardiner: So, in that case, does Defra consider that the international framework for plant movement controls is worth a fig?

Professor Boyd: I will turn again to the deliberations of the task force, which did question whether the movement controls are sufficient, especially within the EU at the moment.

Q80 Barry Gardiner: Why bother with movement controls if we know this is coming in on the wind anyway? You have said to the Committee that you believe that the preponderance of the evidence is that this is coming in on the wind. You know with absolute certainty that there have been imports of seedlings, but you have said to the Committee there is no clear evidence that those seedlings have given rise to what one might call a bloom of the disease around those areas where they have been imported or where they have subsequently been planted out. So if that is the case, what is the point of movement controls?

Professor Boyd: Are you talking specifically about ash here?

Barry Gardiner: Well, of course, yes.

Professor Boyd: Not general movement.

Barry Gardiner: No, I am not talking about other pathogens and other pests and vectors of disease, no. I am talking about Chalara fraxinea.

Professor Boyd: As the control plan says, we want to try as much as possible to limit the rate of spread of the disease. We know from epidemiological modelling that even though there is wind dispersal, the hand of man can actually add to the rate of movement of the disease.

Professor Ian BoyMr Barry GardineAs the control plan says we want to try to, as much as possible, limit the. What we know from epidemiological.

Q81 Barry Gardiner: But the rate of movement was originally identified by the science.

Chair: We are really pressed for time here.

Barry Gardiner: Indeed, but, Chair, I think both Professor Boyd and I would think this was critical. The rate of spread via wind was about 30 to 40 kilometres, was it not?

Professor Boyd: It varies, depending on whom you speak to; 20 to 30 kilometres a year, perhaps.

Barry Gardiner: Twenty or 30 kilometres, whereas what you are telling us is actually we can have wind spore generation coming from the middle of Germany into the southeast of England, which is considerably more than 20 or 30 kilometres.

Professor Boyd: Exactly, but we are dealing with is a probability distribution of spread, so you can get a mean of 20 to 30, but you can get very occasional spread over much longer distance.

Q82 Barry Gardiner: The map is not very occasional, though, is it? The map is really quite concentrated.

Professor Boyd: But remember that there may well have been internal spread after initial colonisation. If you run the epidemiological models forward, you can simulate the kind of distribution that we have within the UK.

Q83 Barry Gardiner: Professor Boyd, the Chair wants us to move on. So let me just ask you: what are the barriers to the use of stricter import controls, such as those that Australia and New Zealand have for the protection of their plant life?

Professor Boyd: Again, it is for the task force to report, and for the Government then to consider a response to that. At the moment it will depend on discussions with our European partners of the European Commission, where there is an ongoing process of reviewing plant health biosecurity, so we are pushing at an open door there. My personal view is that we could and should do more than we do at the moment, but we have go hand in hand with our international partners on this because this is about international trade and making sure that we are not unnecessarily standing in the way of free trade, but we may have a rules-based trading system as New Zealand and Australia have.

Q84 Mrs Glindon: How likely is it that member states will support reform of the EU plant health regime so a precautionary approach may be taken by countries wishing to ban imports of plants and trees?

Martin Ward: We know that there is a general view that the current regime is not working as well as it should. Chalara is not the only problem spreading; there are other things spreading in other parts of the EU that are also getting a political profile in those areas and with the European Commission. So a more precautionary regime is in the offing. Proposals are expected in February or March. There are still some points of contention, particularly around how precautionary the regime should be for new trades in plants that are high risk from other continents. There are also issues around the degree of regionalisation permitted under the regime, but I hope that we will get an improved regime, and there is a fair degree of consensus around some of the key points as to how it should be improved.

Q85 Mrs Glindon: What is Defra doing to influence the EU negotiations on revision of the plant health directive such that the UK has sufficient flexibility to act preemptively on pests and diseases that are present in other member states but have yet to be detected in the UK?

Martin Ward: We have been working very closely with the Commission and other member states over the last two years, during which the evaluation of the current regime and the fleshing out of the draft of the new regime has taken place. Regionalisation has been one of the key points that the UK has been pressing as part of better risk targeting, because it means targeting risks in the particular region where the action is taking place. For example, the risks in Finland are very different from the risks in Malta. I think that has been increasingly appreciated, understood and accepted. So whereas, for example, the protected zone arrangements were previously seen as something of a hangover from pre-single market days, those are clearly going to be retained, strengthened and secured in the new regime. We have also been working closely with stakeholders, as I mentioned earlier, and the Commission has been consulting stakeholders who are active at the European level, so the same messages have been going to the Commission from the UK and the UK stakeholder organisations.

Q86 Barry Gardiner: Professor Boyd, the Secretary of State in his letter to this Committee said: "We are basing our advice on the best available national and international evidence." I presume you had a hand in the drawing up of that letter. So, I was wondering whether you referred to the 2011 Forestry Commission Report that came out in May, which spoke of the research into Chalara fraxinea. If you did, you will recall that it said: "In Northern Europe many ash stands are affected, and death is widespread due to Chalara." But in the column that was marked "Research in Progress", it stated that there was none. So when we are basing our advice on the best available national and international evidence, can you tell me what research has been done in the UK between 2008 and 2012 on Chalara fraxinea by Defra or its agencies?

Professor Boyd: I cannot give you a statement right now on the details of the research that has been done. It would be much better if I wrote to you to provide that.

Q87 Barry Gardiner: The Forestry Commission said that it was none. The Secretary of State has said that he is basing his advice on the best available national and international advice. But it appears that no research has been done on this area, if one is to believe the Forestry Commission, over the past four years.

Professor Boyd: A considerable amount of research has gone on in the continent on Chalara fraxinea. The Forestry Commission and Fera have been in close contact with their colleagues in Europe, and in fact are part of an international research consortium into Chalara. So just because we may not be doing research directly in the UK does not mean to say we are not connected with the research that is going on and absorbing that information. It is that information that we use.

Q88 Chair: Mr Ward, did you wish to add anything?

Martin Ward: I would only say that increasingly we are looking at drawing evidence from areas where diseases and pests occur rather than trying to carry out research under quarantine containment conditions within the UK, which adds a great deal of cost and difficulty to doing research. It is much better if we can draw links with researchers in areas where disease is present and where containment conditions do not have to be used.

Q89 Chair: For the sake of completeness, could we just ask about plane trees? Are plane trees specifically monitored for disease?

Roger Coppock: No. The Forestry Commission does not monitor plane trees for disease. They are predominantly urban trees; they are not forest trees in that sense.

Q90 Chair: So, what if we imported a diseased tree?

Professor Boyd: Martin, do you want to take that?

Martin Ward: I mentioned earlier that we were looking at our monitoring, in an answer to a question from the Committee, of the highest risk trees for specific risks, and plane is certainly included on that list, where we are looking at how we can step up our monitoring.

Q91 Chair: Are we importing many plane trees from areas prone to the disease?

Martin Ward: That will be part of the monitoring we are looking at. Plane wilt, or canker stain as it is also known, is a regulated organism, so there are measures already in place to protect against the spread of that disease, Ceratocystis platani. As I mentioned earlier, of course measures are not necessarily perfectly applied, hence the need for monitoring, but it is not like the position with ash and Chalara. There are regulations already in place to restrict movement.

Chair: We are very grateful to you. We understand that we had you only till 3.30, so we hope that we have accommodated you to that timetable. Obviously, this is an early stage of our inquiry, and we are very grateful. We do congratulate you on the two documents, the task force interim report especially, which we shall continue to monitor, and we look forward to your final report. We have called for evidence until early January, and then we will go forward. Like you, we will be looking beyond the ash tree, but we are very grateful, Professor Boyd, Mr Ward and Mr Coppock, for you being with us and being so generous with your time at quite short notice this afternoon. Thank you very much indeed.

Prepared 27th December 2012