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O’Neill updates stakeholders on Ash Dieback

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill has met with a range of stakeholders to update them on the handling of ash dieback disease in the north of Ireland.
Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The meeting at Stormont was attended by woodland growers, forestry agents, nursery/trade representatives, hurley manufacturers and local council officials.

Speaking afterwards Minister O’Neill said: “My policy continues to be one of prevention, containment and eradication of this disease. Since my last meeting with stakeholders we have been able to maintain a “Fortress Ireland” approach to plant health, taking full advantage of our island status to give all the protection possible with parallel legislation north and south to ban the import of plants for planting and to place controls on the import of ash logs. The wisdom of this approach has been confirmed by the EU Standing Committee on Plant Health, who agreed that Ireland north and south should be given time to show if the control strategy will work.”

Turning to the source of disease in the north, the Minister explained how ash dieback was confirmed here on a number of recently planted ash premises, by tracing the movement of young plants from nurseries associated with infection and from wider surveillance of young plantations. Acknowledging the support and co-operation of the industry in tracing this material, Michelle O’Neill said: “I want to thank the commercial nurseries, the forestry companies, and the woodland owners for their co-operation with us which helped us to find and destroy infected plants very quickly.

“So far, we have not found any evidence that the disease has spread to older trees in woodlands and hedges. At this early stage this gives us some grounds for hope that the disease is not established in Ireland.”

The Minister listened to the experiences of stakeholders and asked their views about a range of possible actions that could be taken to prevent the disease becoming established here. These included chemical treatment of leaves and twigs, bio-security by the wider public and by professionals, and the scope for wider public engagement in spotting symptoms next summer.

The Minister concluded: “Good plant hygiene and biosecurity have an important role to play in helping us avoid the introduction and spread of plant diseases. I encourage all stakeholders to be vigilant for the signs of this disease and report any concerns that they have to the Department.”

To date Ash Dieback has been confirmed in young ash saplings at 14 sites in counties Antrim, Down, Derry and Tyrone and at two nursery/retail/trade sites. Further information on the disease and how to report suspect findings is available on the DARD website.

Notes to editors:

  1. Chalara fraxinea is a serious disease which has caused the death of many ash trees in European countries. Legislation was introduced north and south on Friday 26 October banning the import and movement of ash plants for planting from infected areas. It is not a threat to humans or animals.
  2. Further legislation was made on 6 November and importers are now required to demonstrate that wood is free from infection by showing that it comes from an area known to be free from disease, or has been square sawn to removing the rounded surface, or has been dried to less than 20% moisture content.
  3. The Preliminary Woodland Register published by Forest Service indicates that the area of woodland is 105,700 hectares or approximately 8% of the land area. Ash is a native tree species and occurs as a component of broadleaf and mixed conifer/broadleaf woodland on mineral soils.
  4. Forest Service estimates that there are approximately 32,000 hectares of woodland (or 30% of our total woodland area) comprising broadleaf and mixed conifer broadleaf species on mineral soils which are likely to contain a component of ash. Approximately 20% of this is managed by Forest Service and the remaining 80% by a wide range of other bodies including farmers, estate owners, charitable trusts, local and central government.
  5. There are an estimated 75,000 miles of hedgerow (Countryside Survey 2007) which are also likely to contain a component of ash, both as standard trees and cut as part of routine hedge management.
  6. For media enquiries please contact DARD Press Office 028 9052 4619 or email: DARD Press Office. Out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.