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Minister of State Mary Wallace highlights the importance of protecting the National Forest Estate from Exotic Pest and Disease Threats

The Minister of State with responsibility for forestry, Mary Wallace TD, today highlighted the importance of the relative pest free status of Ireland's forests which are recognised as being among the healthiest in Europe. She stressed the importance of protecting the national forest estate against the introduction of exotic pests and diseases. In this regard her Department operates wood import controls under the EU Plant Health Directive.

The Minister's comments follow the interception by the Forest Service of the Department of two imported consignments of timber from Canada, which were found to be infested with harmful forestry pests, including the pine wood nematode, one of the most serious threats to the EU's forests.

All necessary steps were taken to deal with the interceptions. The non-compliant imported Canadian timber was appropriately treated under the supervision of the Department's Forestry Inspectorate. The European Commission and EU Member States have been notified concerning the interceptions and contact was also made with the forestry authorities in Canada.

The Minister highlighted the importance of early detection of exotic pests and diseases and urged forest owners to report any unusual signs or symptoms of pest or disease attack or other forest damage to the Forest Service of her Department.

29 June, 2007

NOTE FOR EDITORS

Quarantine bark beetle species and wood boring insects were initially detected. Following recent laboratory analysis of representative wood samples taken from the imported consignments, the pine wood nematode (Bursaphelenchus xylophilus) was also identified.

The pine wood nematode is a microscopic eelworm which can cause a very serious disease known as pine wilt disease. The nematode's life cycle is linked to the life cycle of a large wood boring long horn beetle species, Monochamus. When the larva of this wood boring long horn beetle pupates and emerges as an adult beetle from the tree/timber, it can carry thousands of nematodes on its body parts. While feeding and egg laying on healthy trees it can transmit the nematode. The nematode can then build up in millions in the tree, causing what is essentially a blockage in the plumbing of the tree. This causes the wilt and subsequent death of the tree and is known as pine wilt disease. The nematode was inadvertently introduced into Portugal, possibly in infested wood packaging material, and was discovered there in 1999. It is causing serious damage to Portugal's forests and millions of trees have since been felled and removed with the aim of containing and eradicating the pest. Special EU legislative control measures are in place under Commission Decision 2006/133/EC.

The implementation of strict forest plant health regulations and Ireland's island status have protected us from many diseases and pests that are present in other parts of Europe and around the world. Apart from the ongoing inspection of timber and wood packaging material imports, the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food carries out surveys and monitors the health status of the national forest estate.

Date Released: 29 June 2007