Suffolk/UK: Tree protection could be hampered by “skills gap”

An ash sapling

An ash sapling - Credit: PA

The protection of the county’s trees from diseases such as ash dieback are being hampered by a “skills gap”, experts have warned.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) has said a scaling back in Government funding has meant there are fewer plant scientists than in previous years, resulting in a slower turnaround in sample analysis.

A Government-appointed taskforce, set up in the wake of the toxic chalara outbreak, recently criticised “complacency” surrounding the number of experts and described an “erosion in crucial field and research-based experience”.

Julian Roughton, chief executive of SWT, addressing the issue of a skills gap, said: “Well this is certainly something we became aware of during the ash dieback outbreak.

“One of the things that was highlighted was the slow response from samples going in and feedback coming back – I think because there were a very limited number of plant health scientists that were able to do the analysis. By all accounts that is the case.

“With this whole range of tree diseases coming forward, with a much higher profile that does seem to be a weakness at the moment.”

Mr Roughton added: “Ultimately we got to this place because the Government has scaled down the science and the resources given to the science.

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“The resources given to science in places like Forest Research have over the years been progressively scaled down.”

He said he hoped the review by the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce would see more funds go back into forest science and more people seeing it as a career option.

Environment secretary, Owen Paterson, has said he will respond to issues raised by the taskforce by the end of the summer.

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