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Brexit & Plant Health

It’s easy to manage the movement of people from one country to another because we all have passports. We’re used to those interminable queues at airports or at cross-channel ferry ports. So, if an apocalyptic, Walking Dead scenario were to grip the world, the UK would be better placed than most to stop people entering the country. However, when it comes to the import of trees and wood products, it’s not so easy.

We’ve been talking to Caroline Ayre, the UK Confederation of Forest Industries’ Manager for England about the impact of Brexit and what it means for the UK’s forestry industry.

Caroline Ayre discussing Brexit with Certainly Wood Caroline Ayre, England National Manager for Confor, discussing Brexit

CW: Many people think the spread of Dutch Elm Disease and Ash Die Back – diseases which have decimated two of our native species – managed to make their way into this country because of a lack of border checks, do you agree?

CA: I think that’s the most likely scenario. There are all sorts of ways pests and diseases are able to find their way into the UK.

The landscaping industry imports large trees with soil on their roots - a major problem area as this provides the perfect hiding place for all sorts of things.

We also import some 67,450 tonnes of firewood into the UK out of which approximately 90% is imported from the EU with Latvia and the other Baltic nations as the most important suppliers.

Firewood imported from the EU Imported EU logs. Could Brexit improve border controls?

The market is dominated by birch, ash, oak and alder which are declared as originating the EU, predominately from Latvia (60%).

The UK is woefully understaffed when it comes to qualified personnel at its border controls, which means the checks carried out at present are limited and somewhat random.

CW: So, what can we do to change things?

CA: We need to reassess what we’re importing. To give you an example - at the moment, the UK is still bringing in ash wood from abroad which makes no sense at all. Given the massive impact of Ash Dieback disease, we will have more than enough home-grown ash to keep us going for decades without risking further diseased imports.

Another solution would be for us to better manage our broadleaved woodlands – 60% are left to their own devices and we would be able to be self-supporting when it comes to logs if we did this, making imports unnecessary.

Managed woodland Better woodland management would make imports unnecessary

If we do need to bring in non-native species, we recommend raising plants and trees from seeds that have been imported so that they no longer act like Trojan horses, bringing in hidden destructive forces with them.

Growing trees from seeds in a growbag Raising trees from imported seeds causes less destruction

CW: So how will Brexit impact on plant health?

CA: Whatever your political stance, Brexit looks set to be positive for British timber. We’ll be able to review our biosecurity policies and put more stringent checks in place. People are also keen to support British industry, especially when they realise we offer a superior product.

CW: What can people look for now to help ensure they are buying high quality, healthy British wood?

Woodsure ready to burn logoCA: Always buy kiln dried logs that carry Woodsure’s Ready To Burn logo – that means the firewood has below a 20% moisture content. Woodsure operates the UK’s only wood fuel quality scheme and also ensures that its members are aware of the biosecurity checks they need to put in place. If you want to ensure its 100% British look for the Grown in Britain logo, or ask your supplier where the wood is sourced from.

Caroline Ayre is the England National Manager for Confor: Promoting forestry and wood, a membership organisation that promotes sustainable forestry and wood-using businesses. She holds a BSc in Rural Resource Management and is a full member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters. Caroline spent her early career in woodland supply chain investment and market development for homegrown timber in the south west of England. Caroline sits on a wide range of groups and forums and is a Board Director of the DR Company, Deer Initiative and an Executive Committee member of the UK Squirrel Accord. Caroline leads for Confor on tree health and represents the forestry and timber sector in the development of plant health planning and policy.

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