Government Backs Battle Agaisnt Plant Diseases

The government has pledged £25 million to help eradicate the plant diseases Phytophthora kernoviae and Phytophthora ramorum, which are spreading across the UK.

Phytophthora kernoviae and Phytophthora ramorum are fungus-like pathogens which cause potentially lethal infections in oak and beech trees, as well as infecting and damaging other trees and shrubs which make up Britain’s woodlands.

The pathogens were first discovered in the the UK in 2003 and 2002, respectively. The scale of the outbreak was significant enough for emergency measures against the introduction and spread of Phytophthora ramorum to be introduced throughout the EU in November 2002 and a ‘Phytophthora kernoviae Management Zone’ was established in the UK in 2004. Whilst the number of outbreaks subsequently decreased, 69 sites in England and Wales are still affected by the disease.

The extent of the damage these Phytophthora species cause to trees and shrubs, and the speed at which symptoms develop, mean that they pose a potentially serious threat to woodland and heathland environments. A major epidemic in the UK could have potentially devastating consequences on the landscape, biodiversity, tourism and horticulture.

Rhododendrons, a carrier of both diseases, will continue to be removed in woodland to tackle the problem. The government also plans to invest a significant portion of the £25million into new research and development, and there will be a campaign to make landowners aware of the threat.

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