What is worrying is the apparent blindness of those who have been busy planting broadleaved trees by the square mile in the conviction that they are helping to regenerate Britain’s heritage of woodlands. No one is a more enthusiastic planter of amenity trees than the Woodland Trust whose aim is to “support, nurture and encourage native woodland and making them more robust in the fact of climate change and disease.” The Trust buys its trees from nurseries. It claims to always ask for trees of local provenance, evidently not knowing, and certainly not asking, about how exactly these trees have been nurtured. In fact, many – to judge from the official figures, most – seedlings of ash and other trees are exported to Holland and other European countries for growing on and are then imported back for planting out. This practice is widely known and condoned in the trade, and was certainly known about by Defra and the Forestry Commission. Yet the Woodland Trust admits they knew nothing about it. In their innocence they feel themselves victims (pardon me, but I’d say the ash trees are the victims here).

But can I suggest that, until we can guarantee that nursery trees are free from contagious and fatal diseases we simply stop planting trees?

Professor Oliver Rackham, a Life Fellow at Cambridge University, said that the “tree-planting” craze began in the 1970s with the campaign “Plant a tree in ‘73”. More recently private and public authorities have been encouraged to plant trees to help tackle climate change.

But the Professor of Ecology said tree planting has become too commercialised.

He said councils and other large organisations look for the cheapest trees available, that are often grown abroad. They then use contractors that are not experienced in planting the trees correctly.

He said many of the recent diseases that have hit the UK came in on imported trees and spread faster because the trees were planted too close together and weakened by lack of care.

“A lot of material – although it is of British origin – is grown overseas and brings foreign soil and what foreign soil contains,” he said.


“Cutting funding to forestry authorities, for example, is a false economy that will lead to far greater economic losses than it has saved.

“The government’s slow response to the ash dieback problem has once again shown a lack of understanding of the importance of woods and forests to the UK.

Cllr. Abbott continued:“The UK has superb soils and climate for tree growing, yet imports a significant proportion of stock from abroad, both trees and shrubs – including native trees.

“The UK should be able to grow UK trees using native seeds, which would generate local jobs, particularly in rural areas.

“Yet the Government has allowed the import market to continue without strict enough regulation, despite the fact that importing native trees is both economically and environmentally unsustainable.”


Cases of a deadly tree disease that causes ash trees to die back have been found in Kent and Essex, the government said on Monday. There are now a total of 82 confirmed sites, up from 52 as recently as this weekend. Defra stressed that it did not believe the new cases had necessarily spread from East Anglia, but may have been present in the environment already, with the spores born on the wind from the continent, where the disease is widespread.

But a shortage of botanists is adding to the problem of dealing with ash dieback. Diane Hird of the University of Bristol, who led a report into plant pathology education and training in the UK, said there had been a “serious decline” in the teaching of and research into plant diseases in the UK, going back for two decades.