Defra announce new tree health risk register

Last week, Defra announced that a draft plant biosecurity strategy had been complied, laying out what actions will be undertaken to address the growing threats to tree and plant health. One of the key components of this strategy has already been put into operation: a plant risk register which highlights over 700 threats to Britain’s plants and trees.

Despite pests and diseases having been a prominent threat to UK trees and plants for the past decade and if not longer, it has only been within the past few years that tree and plant health and biosecurity has become one of Defra’s top priorities. The notable plights of Ash and Oak trees have received particular media attention, and public engagement on such issues has increasingly been encouraged through citizen science projects and apps.

To tackle the current and emerging threats to trees and plants, Defra have made some positive steps in addressing this issue. Central to this has been the formation of a Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce, which is a multi-disciplinary expert group that provides advice and recommendations for how threats can be mitigated. In May 2013 they released a report which detailed a series of steps that should be taken at national and international levels. A key priority for them was the production of a Plant Health Risk Register, which should help to identify and prioritise threats to plants and trees as well as identify the probability of entry of exotic or reoccurrence of indigenous species. It is designed for government, industry and stakeholders to use.

This risk register has now been published and is available to view here.  The register is accessed online, where users can search for the pest or disease or the host by using their scientific or common names. There are five main components of the risk register: 1) Key features of the pest, 2) Unmitigated risk ratings, 3) Current mitigations, 4) Mitigated risk ratings and 5) Actions to reduce to the residual risk. Risk ratings are generated from likelihood of the risk arising, impact on the host plant, value of host plants in the UK and overall risk rating to UK (likelihood*impact*value). An unmitigated risk rating is what the risk would be without any action whereas a mitigated risk rating shows what the risk would be with coordinated action from government, stakeholders and industry.

The register is intended to be flexible and will be updated monthly, altering in the ratings it provides as and when new science arises. New organisms will also be added and further refinements will also be made. Allowing this flexibility is extremely important in order to allow subsequent actions taken to tackle the risks to be as informed and evidence based as possible. UK plant health stakeholders and industries are also encouraged to contribute and propose new threats, but only where a coordinated action is applicable.

In regards to future Defra action, the plant health strategy is due to be published in Spring, following a recent Plant Health Summit which was held in London with stakeholders. Given this positive start through the creation of a risk register, this strategy will hopefully lay out key actions at both governmental and stakeholder levels that can be taken to tackle the threats facing UK plants and trees.