Forest Service takes steps to improve import controls

Date published: 08 August 2019

DAERA Forest Service has introduced strengthened control measures for the import of oak trees.

The measures follow recent outbreaks of Oak Processionary Moth (OPM) in GB which are being linked to imports of oak trees for planting from Holland and Germany.

The hot summer of 2018 led to increased moth numbers in continental Europe and therefore the risk of infested oak plants moving in trade. Whilst the moth is not known to be present in Northern Ireland (NI), if introduced OPM would weaken the plant health status of our oak trees and could pose concerns to public health.

OPM can cause skin irritation and rashes where the caterpillar hairs come into contact with people directly or through their circulation in the air.

Forest Service Chief Executive John Joe O’Boyle said: “Evidence links the increased findings of OPM in GB to the importation of larger oak trees imported for planting. Forest Service Plant Health inspectors have traced recently notified consignments of higher risk oak plants. We are continuing to work with local councils, other agencies and land managers to assist with early detection of any OPM introductions. No OPM findings have been detected in NI at present. However due to the evidence associated with imports it is essential that we strengthen our existing plant health controls on oak trees imported into NI to assist in managing the risk of introducing OPM. In response to the threat I have laid new legislation to enhance plant health controls”.

The new control measures only permit imports of oak trees in certain circumstances, including:

  • Trees plant passported from OPM free countries
  • Trees from a designated area of the EU including Protected Zones (PZ) declared free of OPM
  • Trees accompanied by plant passports confirming that have been under complete physical protection for their lifetime.

Since 22 July 2019, the tighter restrictions under the new NI plant health legislation apply to imported oak for planting where the stem is 8cms or more at 1.2 metres above the root collar.

These restrictions apply to imports of oak trees to the UK and trees moving from areas within the UK where OPM is already present – including in the GB control zone in London and surrounding counties.

Smaller oak trees (less than 8cms at 1.2m above the root collar) can continue to be imported under existing pre notification to DAERA and control arrangements given they represent a low risk of OPM spread.

Mr O’Boyle continued: “Biosecurity is absolutely key to managing the risks to NI’s Plant Health status and recent findings of OPM in GB emphasise the need for vigilance and effective official controls.”

Jim Crummie, Head of Plant Health Division, added: “We are urging woodland managers, land owners, the forest industry and tree nurseries to share responsibility for the urgent checking of recently planted large oak trees imported from outside NI. Under our contingency arrangements we will tackle OPM if found here with a control programme that includes treatment and eradication.

“You can’t check imported plants too often for signs of trouble. Don’t presume that because your supplier found no OPM present earlier that you have no need to check now as its presence may now be more obvious.

“I would urge you to visit the DAERA Plant Health website for more information on how to identify OPM and if concerned you should not attempt to destroy or move infected material yourself. Please report suspect OPM sightings, using the TreeCheck web based app."

Notes to editors: 

  1. The legislation covers all oak trees which have a girth of 8cm or more at 1.2 metres above the root collar. Oak trees (with a girth less than 8cm at 1.2m above the root collar trees) can still be imported and moved, given they represent a low risk of infestation.
  2. The only exception to this legislation is the oak species cork oak (Quercus suber) as OPM does not breed on them.
  3. To report sightings of pests and diseases, use the Treecheck online submission webpage.
  4. The UK Plant Health Service is made up of Defra, Animal and Plant Health Agency and the Forestry Commission, Scottish Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Forest Service Plant Health.
  5. Download more information on OPM.
  6. Download guidance on importing trees and plants to NI from the EU.
  7. Find out more about plant health Protected Zones.
  8. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
  9. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or via email. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer on 028 9037 8110.

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