This is a scary time for European trees, since it was first discovered, Phytophthora ramorum and some of its relatives have not abated. The spread of the disease has not been halted despite some serious investment and efforts by the FC and DEFRA in the UK and their European counterparts. Recent news that the spread is as a result of sporangia in Larch plantations is a massive new problem.
With most EU countries now adopting austerity measures or cuts to public spending, how much will the budgets of the organisations dealing with this problem be affected. This is already answerable and we know that funding has been dramatically reduced and will continue to be reduced.
However how much are the public involved in the assistance to halt the spread of the disease and also how much are the practitioners involved? How much are the nursery and horticultural industry responsible for the outbreak of P. ramorum and other diseases in the first place? And as such what measures should we in the industry be taking.
The FC have produced guidelines and introduced what appears to be an excellent and comprehensive package - advocating increased vigilance and following discovery serious efforts to curb spread through cleaning of tools, clothing, vehicles and staff. Following removal of the infected plants, replanting instructions
are provided. Financial aid is also given to landowners who have large outbreaks.
This does not alleviate the frustration many practitioners and owners must feel about being unable to stop the spread of the disease in the first place.
It was evident to some that an outbreak of P. kernovia
in Cornwall was spreading in localised areas away from land that saw public access on a large scale but that P. ramorum
seemed to occur in areas which did see significant public access. On one plant I saw that had been affected it was evident that the Rhododendron in question had been clipped for cuttings by someone who did not work on the estate in question. Dirty secateurs by a cutting thief? The suggestion for controls to persons, animals and vehicles moving in and out of areas with the disease has been suggested plenty of times but restrictions have not been forthcoming in any tangible amount.
Media reaction has been largely good, the fear and horror angle of these diseases appeals to the public and consequently much has been written - surely aiding those tasked with trying to halt the diseases. Or maybe the cynics amongst us will think that this publicity was counter productive, media hype about a threat that is hardly the end of the world, leading to a slow down in funding.
With the recent news about the spread and the fact that budgets will certainly be lowered now it is surely the time to trust the practitioners to do more than just report on the disease and clean their boots regularly.
The current position of the UK land industry is well placed to assist: It is largely made up of smaller, localised but highly knowledgeable professionals. Many of whom are trusted by their clients to a degree unseen in many other industries. With a threat as great as this it is surely essential to arm those already trained in horticulture and land based industry with more than a 'mopping up' information sheet. The practitioners could already be out there helping to ensure; new planting is carried out to minimise the risks; checking up on the supply chain of plants; removing highly susceptible plants from contact with important native and ornamental trees and other significant specimens; warning clients directly; testing products and having the right to impose restrictions on high risk areas when concerned without waiting in consultation, etc.,
Quangos have frequently kept operations to themselves, but with these new threats and with the budget cuts looming it is surely time to allow the practitioners to relieve some of the burden of the work ahead in fighting these diseases. Indeed the existing base of practitioners, their knowledge and access to materials and different techniques specific for different regions is surely a good place to look for potential solutions or experimentation in reducing the continued spread.