Imports of high-risk plants and firewood must be brought to an end within five years, to safeguard the health of UK forests, according to a new report by industry body Confor.
The UK’s elm, larch and ash trees have all been devastated by imported pests and diseases, and there are many more which threaten both timber businesses and native wildlife.
Confor’s new report, available here, outlines the problems and identifies how to resolve them.
One of the threats is imported plants in soil-filled pots, widely used by gardeners and landscapers. These enter the country with few checks or regulations and pose serious risks of containing invasive beetles, fungi, bacteria or other pathogens.
Another challenge is the 3,000 tonnes of firewood imported into the UK every month. This can be done safely if the bark is removed and the wood fully dried. However, in a sample of consignments inspected last year, more than a quarter did not meet the required standards.
Phasing out firewood imports will have wider benefits for the health of the UK’s native broadleaf woodlands, as well as protecting them from disease. A scheme to bring woodlands into management for firewood would supply this product from home-grown sources.
Confor England manager Caroline Harrison said: “Managing native woodland by thinning makes them better for wildlife by diversifying their structure and allowing in light – and encourages remaining trees to grow better to capture carbon and provide quality timber.”
Any seedling trees imported for the forestry sector are covered by the Forest Reproductive Material regulations, ensuring traceability and control. But the sector is committed to working with policymakers to phase these out within five years.
Fiona Angier of the Confor Nursery Producers Group said: “Forest managers, forest nurseries and landowners represented by Confor are agreed that the only plant material we should be importing is seed, but achieving this requires improvements in the way forest planting is approved.
“It takes 2-3 years to grow the young trees for a new forest. But the uncertainty of forestry grant schemes often means that millions of trees must be planted within a window of a few months, and the number of trees planted fluctuates wildly from year to year. Nurseries, who often have to burn stock at the end of the season, cannot maintain large-scale surpluses in case of a shortfall, so the industry is obliged to import plants to fulfil orders.”