Response to Defra’s recommendations of the Tree Health and Biosecurity Task Force announced this morning

Dr Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director at the National Trust said: “We welcome the moves announced by Defra today.  It’s particularly good that it has accepted the remaining plant health taskforce recommendations.

“We are pleased to see a strategy and high level commitment to reprioritise resources and we look forward to hearing more in the spring about the measures being put in place to protect the UK from future plant and tree health diseases. 

“Government must also ensure we have the resources to tackle those diseases already here, as well as any future ones.”

National Trust responds to Defra’s sweet chestnut and plane tree importation controls

Dr Simon Pryor, Director of the Natural Environment at the National Trust said:

“The introduction of these tighter import controls is good news for our native trees.  This is an extremely complex issue to address and this is an important step for commercial tree importers in particular.  But more still needs to be done to further tighten up regulations for the more ‘informal’ tree importer, such as landscape gardeners and the wider general public. 

“We are pleased to see these new regulations come into force and would also call for more to be done with other tree species over the coming months to give us even greater reassurance of the health of imported tree stocks; but to also prevent future outbreaks of diseases such as ash dieback.”

Somerset site gives glimmer of hope for ash dieback disease

Trees in a Somerset plantation have survived with ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea) for far longer than previously thought possible, suggesting there may be potential to slow the spread of the disease in the British countryside after all.

Only ten per cent of the six thousand ash trees at the Holnicote plantation are showing any signs of the disease, despite having been infected for five years longer than any other tree in the UK so far.

The disease is present in one other small plantation nearby but doesn’t appear to have spread any further – which is at odds with Government predictions which suggests it should have spread further and infected more trees in this time.

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Saving our seas

Why the National Trust is backing the call for 127 Marine Conservation Zones

On Monday 25th February the National Trust will be joining with the Marine Conservation Society at their Westminster Rally, calling for the government to create a coherent and extensive network of Marine Conservation Zones. Phil Dyke, Coast and Marine Adviser for the National Trust takes up the story as to why the National Trust is backing the call for better protection of our most important marine environments:

The National Trust owns and manages over 700 miles of coastline around England, Wales and Northern Ireland on behalf of the nation. An ownership that includes important marine habitats that have long deserved recognition and protection by the state.

I was closely involved with the development of the Marine Conservation Zone project from 2007 and indeed the National Trust contributed to the early funding of the fledgling project in a belief that there was an urgent need in the UK to up our game on marine conservation. I also worked alongside the government and other NGOs on the development of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, a genuinely ambitious piece of legislation that brings with it both the tools to create MCZs and places a requirement on the administration to deliver.

A long view along the coast at Birling Gap, part of the Seven Sisters cliffs range, East Sussex

A long view along the coast at Birling Gap.

It can be hard to imagine what MCZs might look like (a sense that they are distant and under water) so for me it helps perhaps to focus on one special place that is up for designation as an MCZ and in which the National Trust has an important interest. This most iconic chalk cliff includes Beachy Head and the Severn Sisters. A geological and geomorphological wonderland where soft chalk cliffs give way to flinty beaches, rasping and rounding as the pebbles slide back and forth in the surf. At the bottom of the beach low tides expose tantalising glimpses of the chalk ledges that form the main feature of the MCZ; home to a host of marine wildlife and thrill to children of all ages enjoying some rock pooling. More than 300,000 people visit Birling Gap each year and get the chance to interact with this amazing and inspirational inshore marine environment – their MCZ.

In our view the creation of the Marine Conservation Zones is a long-awaited opportunity to give the amazing and, in every sense, vital coastal and marine habitats found at places like Birling Gap the same sort of protection that land based sites have enjoyed for decades. However we are concerned that the government, having worked through an exemplary stakeholder led process to identify these sites, is now back-tracking on the intention of the Marine and Coastal Access Act, and is not giving the waters around the English coast the protection they need.

The National Trust's responsibilities go beyond our boundaries.

The National Trust’s responsibilities go beyond our boundaries.

Birling Gap was originally one part of a proposed network of 127 MCZs recommended to government by the myriad of stakeholders that contributed to the MCZ project. But alas it seems now that the government’s ambition to create a representative network of MCZs in English waters is faltering. The Consultation now includes just 31 MCZs – less than 25% of the network envisaged. An increasing number of people from all the sectors that contributed to the MCZ project are asking the government to revitalise its ambition by creating a genuinely representative127 MCZ network.

Having requested and received the ‘best available evidence’ from stakeholders involved in the 4 regional MCZ projects, the government is now insisting on unrealistic levels of ‘best evidence’ before sites will be considered. By moving the goalposts only 31 of the 127 recommended MCZs (less than 25%) are currently out for consultation. Many of the 96 MCZs rejected are at immediate risk of deterioration and damage.

The National Trust’s view is that the government has a duty to require its agencies to use existing legal mechanisms to protect all 127 of these special marine places until formal designation as MCZ can be achieved. If we wait until all of the evidence is gathered and a lengthy designation process is implemented we risk damage to these underwater habitats and the creatures that call them home.

Close up of a young, female, grey seal basking on a beach on the Farne Islands in Northumbria

Effective legislation for the protection of our seas has never been so close, yet so threatened.

Marine Conservation Zone statement

The National Trust is joining with the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) at their march at Westminster on Monday (25th) in calling on the government to create a robust network of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs).

The government – having previously denoted an ambition for the establishment of 127 MCZs (of which around a quarter adjoined or included National Trust coastal places) – appears to have changed tack and is now consulting on a much more modest list of 31 MCZs, of which nine touch or link to special coastal areas in our care.

Granite stacks on the West coast of Lundy Island, in the Bristol Channel, Devon

We collaborated in the establishment of the first MCZ in English waters around Lundy in the Bristol Channel.

The National Trust is strongly supportive of the need for the establishment of MCZs as they provide the important and much needed protection for habitats and species in the sea that are comparable to those we support on land.

We believe that the government:

· Should be more ambitious and commit to establishing a much larger suite of MCZs than the current consultation proposes.

· Needs to be more realistic about the evidence requirements to support the establishment of MCZs, having now set the bar unnecessarily high.

· Involve Stakeholders in reconsidering how to best establish a scientific baseline against which the conservation management of the wider MCZ network can be evaluated

· Should support high quality stakeholder involvement in the setting up and management of MCZs.

 Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director at the National Trust, said:

“The creation of the Marine Conservation Zones is a long-awaited opportunity to give marine species and habitats the same sort of protection that land based sites have enjoyed for decades”.“However we have major concerns that the Government, having worked through an exemplary stakeholder led process to identify these sites, is rowing back on the intention of the Marine and Coastal Access Act and is not giving the waters around the English coast the protection they need.

Phil Dyke, Coast and Marine Adviser for the National Trust said:

“We’re supporting the Marine Conservation Society rally on Monday 25 February as it will send the signal to the Government that people care about the need for proper protection for our marine environment. The Government needs to act now to create a network of Marine Conservation Zones to give our seas the protection that they deserve.”

National Trust reaction to Government statement on Forestry Panel Report

Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director, at the National Trust, said

“We are pleased that the Government has agreed with the Panel and will be securing the Forestry Commission‘s woodlands in England for future generations to enjoy. The way in which people rallied to defend these woodlands was fantastic and it’s good to see the government take this decision to end the uncertainty over the fate of our public forests.”

Woodland on the Blickling Estate, Norfolk. (NTPL)

“It is vital that the conservation work the Forestry Commission has done, restoring ancient woodland and providing woodland recreation, is sustained. We are pleased to see additional short-term funding for the FC, but hope that the Government’s emphasis on generating more of its income from commercial activity is not at the expense of providing conservation and recreation benefits.”

“It’s really good to have the Government agreeing to most of the other recommendations of the Panel. The policy statement is light on detail for some key areas, and we look forward to hearing more about how these aspirations can be turned into reality. There are no big surprises, and given the big vision from the Panel it would have been nice to see a few more fresh commitments and new initiatives.”

National Trust welcomes Defra’s new plant importation controls

In response to Defra’s plans for tighter plant importation controls announced today, Dr Simon Pryor, Director of the Natural Environment at the National Trust, said:

“This is a very welcome move, and exactly the sort of action that is needed to prevent more tree pests and diseases being imported into this country.

“We have been very worried about chestnut blight, and were on the brink of stopping any planting of this species on our own land as we couldn’t be sure they weren’t imported or infected. The extension of the inspections to cover a range of species gives us greater confidence.

“This move is particularly important as both oak and chestnut are species which might be appropriate to replace ash with once the extent of ash dieback is known.”