December 8 2013 Latest news:
By Joseph Watts Political editor
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
THE Government has been accused of twisting scientific evidence on ash dieback in order to avoid blame for failing to act quicker against the disease’s spread.
Ash dieback, caused by the chalara fraxinea fungus, has now been found at 155 sites across the UK.
Ministers imposed an import ban on trees on October 29 in a bid to stop more infected specimens coming into the country but have been accused of waiting too long to act.
In a debate in the House of Commons last night shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said ministers had not only twisted scientific evidence because it was “inconvenient”, but also that recent cuts made to the Forestry Commission had hindered its tackling of the crisis.
Ms Creagh argued that Government information originally suggested ash dieback arrived in the UK through spores carried between 20kilometres and 30km on the wind.
But a later official document altered the claim, she said, suggesting only that the disease may travel up to 30km per year due to the wind.
Ms Creagh said: “I was surprised to hear (from the Government) that this infection had blown in on the wind all the way across the Channel, all across the North Sea, when the Channel is 30km wide at its narrowest point.
“It is obviously politically inconvenient to have a disease which ministers knew was in the country and where saplings were left infecting their wild and mature cousins.
“The disease until now has moved slowly and predictably across Europe. Yet now it’s developed new powers to cross great seas on the wind.”
Ms Creagh went on to argue Government cuts to the Forestry Commission, including the closure of seven regional offices, had left the authorities less capable of tackling ash dieback.
But Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley defended the Government’s handling of the crisis and emphasised cases in the East of England which he claimed proved the disease could be carried in the air.
He said: “In East Anglia, in my part of the country, this disease has been found in mature tress that we know have had no contact with nurseries that have imported ash plants. Therefore, fungus that is wind-borne is certainly a possibility.”
Meanwhile, environment minister David Heath disputed that cuts had damaged the country’s capability to tackle ash dieback.
He said: “I have to say, none of this activity was compromised by cuts to Forestry Commission services.
“Although the Forestry Commission has taken overall budget cuts since 2010, funding for plant health has not been reduced. In fact, a bigger share of the Forestry Commission’s budget is now dedicated to plant health than previously.”