by Antony Croft
There has been a gradual erosion of the nursery trade in the U.K due to cheaper plants via importation for many decades, driven of course by “the bottom line”, the price. This has seen a remarkable situation evolve; 40% of trees planted in the U.K are of imported origin. Even labelling seems to have slipped through the cracks of “personal choice” and let the buyer beware is the rule of thumb.
Many of the ash trees imported to the U.K are labelled “U.K provenance” but this is misleading buyers, as it is merely the seed that is taken abroad, grown on, exposed to continental pathogens and then shipped back to the U.K to be sold as “of U.K. provenance”.
Of all the threats to our forests and urban trees the importation of plants brings the greatest of all threats, it is all too easy to be disconnected and not see the potential of such a trade, but continental Europes trees are under a lot of declines, the spread of new and old pathogens much harder to control and limit.
Here in the U.K we have a chance to secure our shores from a suit of pathogens that are increasing by the day. Chalara fraxinea is the perfect case in point and reason for its use herein.
There are many reasons for the dramatic increase in tree declines and pathogens; our once long stable climate is undergoing dramatic shifts, with longer droughts and heavier wet periods, from one extreme to the next. Industrial pollution and modern chemical agriculture both combine to cause dramatic changes in soil ecology shifting the balance and decreasing the biodiversity and complex interactions of forest soils. Nitrification and acidification via industrialised and urbanised activities is causing major shifts in tree ecologies that have been stable for millennia. Trees cannot adapt to rapid changes like those we are currently witnessing, a situation that is much more prevalent and obvious even to the untrained eye in continental Europe. Here in the U.K we are isolated to a degree, due to our small land mass and oceanic weather systems we are in effect isolated from continental Europe, this gives our trees and forests a far greater fighting chance.
That said, we are in effect connected due to this importation of plants and especially of trees, trees which we have no real need to be importing as they are in many cases, as with the Ash Fraxinus, excelsior natives to the U.K. I sincerely hope that it is not just I who sees the ridiculous nature of this trade? What on earth are we doing importing trees that we can not only grow ourselves but grow like weeds in our forests and gardens? It is fair to say, certainly with the Ash that if you just left the ground alone for a while an ash would seed and grow without any intervention at all!
Our Government has already proved it has no idea how much the population of the United Kingdom value their trees and woodlands, the forest sell off proved this, now they debate and discuss an issue which could see the U.K lose its ash trees, a species that makes up an estimated 30% of tree populations, we haven’t time to debate this issue.
Many of you reading this will not remember the great loss that occurred to the English countryside when Dutch Elm Disease (DED) wiped out nearly every single Elm tree, our landscape changed forever. The Elm is a species that due to this disease is now ecologically speaking confined to a life as a scrub species, growing from root suckers only to succumb to a repeat infection and die before maturity.
The possibilities of losing another icon of the English landscape is on the horizon, and it is going to take a direct action by ALL of us to avoid these things happening again. We do not have time, Chalara fraxinea has already been imported and fortunately found in time to do something about it. I only hope and pray that it did not reach the wider environment, for there is thus far no guarantee it is not already loose in the U.K.
We must not lose sight and we must not become focused on just the ash tree and Chalara, these imports and their pathogens have been happening for over 30 years, and there is no reason to allow it to continue. We must put an end to such importations, or risk a landscape devastated by a suit of pathogens that could so easily have been avoided.
What YOU must all do is ensure that the plants you buy are of TRUE Provenance of the United Kingdom, please, please take care when selecting plants for your gardens or landscape schemes, and don’t rely on the nursery to give you the right info, half the time they don’t know themselves!
We all have to take responsibility for this now, its time we restored the U.K nursery business by buying U.K plants, even if they cost a little more, for the assets at risk in saving a few pounds on cheap imports are beyond comprehension.
The English landscape must be protected.
By Antony Croft
Read more articles by Antony:
Below are some links to more information on Chalara fraxinea
This link gives the outline information on the disease and its symptoms:
Pest Alert: Ash dieback disease (opens a pdf)
FERA – Rapid Risk Assessment Chalara Fraxinea (opens pdf)