Biosecurity – preventing the introduction and spread of harmful organisms – is big news at long last! The arrival of Chalara fraxinea in Britain has brought this important issue to the fore. My first recommendation is to visit the Forestry Commission’s webpage on Biosecurity Measures.

  • Clean your footwear after visiting a woodland. Wear Wellington boots, as these are easier to clean thoroughly. To do this effectively you must remove first all soil and leaf litter from your soles. You will need water and a stiff hand brush.
  • If you have been to a high risk site apply a detergent to sterilise them, although it is good practice after all visits.
  • Sterilise your tools. Be careful that the chemicals you use do not harm trees (or other wildlife). Read more about sterilising forestry and woodland tools.
  • If you drive into a woodland, even on a road, wash your tyres to remove soil and leaf litter.
  • Propellar™ – FC approved chemical to sterilise footwear and equipment email

Finally, this advice can be followed by woodland owners, arboriculturists, foresters and anyone who accesses woodland regularly. Whether it is practicable or feasible for the average member of the public to adopt these measures is doubtful.

Ash dieback fungal disease, which has infected some 90% of the species in Denmark, is threatening to devastate Britain’s 80m ash population. Symptoms of the disease can be visible on leaves, shoots and branches of affected trees.

Click on the panels on the guide below to learn how to spot the key signs.

Plant pathology has been lost completely or greatly reduced at 11 universities and colleges while fewer than half the institutions which teach biology, agriculture or forestry offer courses in plant pathology, according to a recently published report led by University of Bristol academics.

Researchers say that findings from the British Society for Plant Pathology (BSPP)-funded report threaten Britain’s ability to combat new diseases of trees and crop as they show a serious decline in teaching and research on plant diseases in British universities and colleges.

Whilst plant pathology still plays a very prominent part of teaching and research at the University of Bristol, the audit finds that British universities have appointed very few plant pathologists in the last 20 years.  Many of those who remain are aged over 50.

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.

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.