Norfolk nursery accuses government of “codging up” the fight against ash dieback

The owner of an East Anglian Nursery has accused government ministries of making a 'codge up' of the fight against ash dieback.

David Harwood, who runs the Sandy Lane Nursery, near Diss, made the comment as it emerged in Parliament yesterday that the government had been told of ash dieback's presence in the UK in April, but did not impose an import ban until October.

Mr Harwood said he was now considering whether to destroy his stock of healthy ash trees in the face of the fungal disease's onslaught.

He said: 'The trees do not have the disease, but if you can't move them on, sell them, then there is no alternative. You can't just keep them because they get too big, so it's a case of cutting your losses. It is going to mean a big loss for nurseries.'

Mr Harwood added: 'They have made a bit of a codge-up of it, as it seems this thing has been creeping slowly forward for some time.'

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The government brought into force a plant health order banning imports and the movement of ash trees on October 29.

But in an answer to a question asked by Labour in Parliament yesterday a minister confirmed the fungus which causes the disease, chalara fraxinea, was first confirmed in the UK on March 7.

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It was found after officials investigated trees with suspect symptoms at a nursery in Buckinghamshire, with ministers then informed on April 3.

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: 'Scientists tell us the disease loves wet conditions and spreads from June to October, but ministers failed to get a ban in place over the summer months. We have had the wettest summer on record and I fear we have lost a year in our fight against this terrible disease.'

One nursery in Lincolnshire has said government officials blocked it from taking action after it discovered infected trees in June, and is considering legal action.

Ministers have said the import ban was brought in as soon as was practical, and since then they have also launched a major survey across the country in a bid to determine how widespread the disease is.

Yesterday around 100 scientists, politicians and representatives of organisations gathered in London to determine what further actions government could take to contain the crisis.

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