On this beautiful morning in the Cotswolds I feel somewhat agrieved about how politics has got in the way of another statesmanlike speech from your corespondent. I had put my name down to speak on My Noble Friend Lord Selborne's debate on Ash Dieback in the Lords last night , but unfortunately games being played by others e.g. HM Loyal Opposition, got in the way.
As some will know the issue relating to Boundary changes has been burbling along just under the surface for some time now and occasionally it breaks cover. We had the opening rounds last Wednesday when at one point it looked as if we were going to lose a whole day's business. It was then understood that the Boundaries business would be brought to the House on Monday, which it wasn't.
To give just a little bit more information on this issue without giving the game away as to how geeky we all are in politics, the problem centred around an amendment to the Boundaries legislation which in effect delayed it well beyond the next election. The proposers of the Amendment were Labour, X Bench and of course our coalition partner a Lib Dem. Ahh Yes Lords Reform the matter that was not linked but in fact was. So we ended up having a debate on this highly polarised subject for almost an hour. The Clerks had ruled the amendment out of order and that it should not be called which of course suited the Conservatives down to the ground, but the proposers were insisting on tabling it. So much discussion was going ahead at senior levels of Government on how to proceed.
You would have been amazed at the self righteous tosh being spoken. As you may or may not be aware I have a little experience of being in the Whips office and the first rule of that august post is that your main object in opposition is you make life as difficult as possible for the Government something that Labour are doing very well, but to say this has nothing to do with politics is a load of rubbish. Incidently my boss at that time was none other than the present Leader of the House.
Anyway having got that off my chest back to Ash Dieback, I had written my speech, had some useful information from the Industry as well as Tim Briercliffe at the HTA and was ready to get on my hind legs and make my speech. I started getting a little concerned when I saw 15 min speeches being made in the Defence debate. At around 6.00 pm my calculations put the Ash debate finishing at around 11.00 pm making it tricky to get home back to Cirencester, so I am afraid I pulled out but would recommend readers looking at Hansard for the latest take on the crisis from Westminster. This link should take you to the debate Ash Dieback Debate .
So as my contibution cannot be found in Hansard here it is!
I would like to first thank MNF Lord Selbourne for instigating this useful debate, it has been both timely and informative and all Noble Lords will look forward to the response from MNF the Minister.
To actually look at the future of Ash in our landscape we really have to look at where we are now. As other noble Lords have said we appear to have between 50 and 60 sites that show evidence of Ash dieback and I am sure that after Wednesday when there is a report back on the weekend inspection we will have many more. It’s been found in car parks, commercial woodland as well as Woodland Trust plantations and whips, saplings and mature trees have been found to be infected. And to make matters worse all species of Ash are vulnerable to attack.
On BBC Radio 4 this morning it was said that the effect of AD would be far greater than that of Dutch Elm Disease or any other disease that has hit our woodland. I am not totally sure that that will be the case. As I remember DED the biggest effect of this disease was to decimate our hedgerows and field boundaries. Whilst Ash are found in our hedges they are also very prevalent in our mixed native woodland.
So what will be the effect of this disease? Well it appears that most whips and saplings will be killed by the fungus and that mature trees once weakened by it will then become more vulnerable to Honey Fungus attack. This evidence comes from Denmark whose ash woodland has been decimated, but this is not all bad news. Earlier this year the Danish have mapped out their woodland and identified certain strains of ash that do appear to have some resistance and that can be used as future reproductive stock.
I did find the Forestry Commission website particularly useful, especially a video to help identification of the disease, in addition The HTA also help their members with some useful information and in particular details of the history of the outbreak, it would be useful to hear some clarification of the exchange of letters between the HTA and the FC back in 2009, detailing a request for a ban on imports.
I realise that this outbreak is putting enormous pressure on the FC and Defra but the Forestry UK PLC is desperate to find out where they are going and what they should do. I would like to ask my MNF the Minister if when saplings and whips die what sort of Bio hygiene is required? And with mature trees can the timber be utilised, looking at the symptoms it seems unlikely that Ash will be still used for furniture but can it still be used for tool handles and firewood? And if you do transport it do any specific precautions need to be taken. I have not yet seen or read about the lifecycle of the fungus which would also be useful information.
I realise that requests for compensation have already been turned down by MNFs Department, but I am sure he is aware that the HTA believe they have a special case for seeking compensation from Government to cover the costs of destruction and lost sales. They have estimated there to be almost £10m worth of ash trees growing in UK nurseries, and these are trees that will not be sold and therefore cash flow is going to be hit.
The HTA have also pointed out that an EU fund exists for member states to apply for to assist funding necessary control measures with diseases like this. I understand we have not applied for this in the past but there is no reason why they shouldn’t. In 2011 14m Euros were given to 7 different EU countries for plant disease control. The compensation precedent may not have been set in the UK but it has in the EU.
I am also aware my Lords that there has been joint action in Ireland with both Dublin and Belfast acting as one in banning imports a little earlier than we have in here. As I am sure Noble Lords will be aware the game of Hurling is played with ash sticks and this would be a disaster for this fine game if Ash Dieback was to take hold in Ireland. And on this point my Lords is MNF aware of any out breaks in Ireland.
So what can we do about it? I suspect that we will have to prioritise our resources and follow the Danes in trying to find resistant strains for planting in the future. As far as halting the spread of the fungus across the country this will probably be most difficult to achieve. Though I do hope that further scientific investigation will prove me wrong.