Guest blogger: Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser, DEFRA

The importance of tree health has been brought home to me quite graphically recently at the Chelsea Flower Show where I was visiting the Stop the Spread show garden. The garden, which was part funded by Defra and the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) was designed to show the importance of taking action now to tackle damaging plant pests and diseases.

Created by award winning designer Jo Thompson, the garden contrasts a healthy natural environment with a symbolic avenue of lifeless trees as a demonstration of what could happen if tree and plant diseases were left unchecked. It was a powerful message to see the beauty of the garden behind the barren sight of the dead trees.

Ian Boyd in the Chelsea Flower Show Garden

In Government we're spending £8 million on research into tree and plant health and we've just begun the largest ever project to identify ash trees which might be genetically resistant to the disease, Chalara, which was discovered in the UK last year.  For the first time, tree health is one of the department's top four priorities, alongside animal health. But we all have a role to play.

I hope the garden will make people think twice about bringing home plants from abroad, you just don't know what might be stowing away, unnoticed and the damage it could potentially cause. I was in Australia and New Zealand recently to look at their arrangements and we probably need to have a similar level of vigilance to those counties. They have unique indigenous floras and faunas to protect but in reality our native woodlands are just as vulnerable and just as valuable.

We were very proud to win a silver medal for the garden but the real prize will be if people are more aware of the impact that tree disease can have and get involved by spotting signs of disease, cleaning their boots after walking in woods and forest and by not bringing back cuttings from abroad.

Find out more on about tree health on the GOV.UK website.

BBC News: Ash dieback: how the British landscape is changing.

Fera: about the Chelsea Flower Show garden.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by armybloke

    on 12 Jun 2013 20:48

    I believe that defra has caused a little panic in the public domain by trying to get the public to report ash dieback. The timing of the release of information didn't help either. I was the tree officer for Southampton City and was inundated with concerned public about this. Many even requested that their trees be inspected or removed. It was the beginning of winter and leaf loss was the biggest problem that the public saw as dieback
    I am now working for a nationally recognised arboricultural and ecological company and inspect trees almost daily and am yet to come into contact with a diseased tree
    How prevalent is the disease and is it being over exposed to the public sector?
    On a more positive note the tree behind the team in the opening sequence was proof that you don't have to chop a tree down just because it 'looks' poorly.

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by Tracey

    on 12 Jun 2013 19:55

    My garden and the surrounding garden have very mature Ash trees I am very concerned about them.

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