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Britain’s reliance on cheap imports risks millions of the nation’s trees - Woodland Trust

Planting trees is one of the most important responses to the climate crisis that we are currently facing. To be successful, sourcing these trees has to be done with care. An international model of plant trade has developed over the last 30 years which has made the import of trees more cost effective than growing them in the UK. This increased reliance on imported trees has led to at least 20 serious tree pests and diseases being inadvertently imported into the UK, resulting in the loss of tens of millions of trees, reveals the Woodland Trust.

Between 1992 and 2019 tree imports have increased from £6 million to £93 million. That’s a 1450% increase. As post EU policy is drawn up, the charity is calling for significant improvements in biosecurity. The risks of the accidental importation of new pests, diseases and invasive species on imported plants need to be acknowledged. Trees planted in the UK should preferably be UK grown in order to quash the chances of further mass loss that would scupper the Government’s aims to achieve net zero by 2050 to tackle climate change.

Dr Matt Elliot, tree health policy advisor for the Woodland Trust warned: “There are at least 127 tree pests and diseases that are considered high risk to the UK. If imported into Britain, 47 of these could cost over £1 billion each to tackle and wipe out millions of trees. The evidence is clear, the importation of trees carries a very high degree of risk and a UK grown model of plant production would significantly reduce this risk. We need investment now in new tree production technology to increase capacity in UK nurseries so that the trees required for government tree planting targets can be produced without importing more pests and diseases. This investment would also create much needed long-term stability and jobs in the sector. Given the climate emergency we find ourselves in, this issue needs to be tackled with urgency.”

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