The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson will today host a summit to discuss ash dieback disease which is threatening to devastate one of the UK's most common native trees.
Scientists, conservation groups and industry representatives will meet in London to assess the extent of the disease which has been discovered in recently planted ash trees and in the wider countryside in the UK.
The Chalara fraxinea fungus, which causes leaf loss and crown dieback and can lead to tree death, has wiped out 90% of ash trees in some parts of Denmark and is becoming widespread throughout central Europe.
There are fears that the country's ash trees are facing a similar fate to its elms, which were destroyed by Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.
One of the UK's biggest tree growers will seek damages from the government after losing thousands of trees to ash dieback disease.Read the full story ›
The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) has secured a meeting with Lord de Mauley, Defra Minister to discuss seeking compensation for any financial losses that the industry incurs, following the outbreak of Ash dieback disease.
The HTA will meet Lord de Mauley on Tuesday to discuss the current government import and movement ban on ash trees.
Tim Briercliffe, Director of Business Development at HTA said:
We are delighted that Lord de Mauley has agreed to meet us. We believe that this is a specific case where the horticultural industry had warned the government of a potential outbreak, but now as a result of inaction the industry has to pay for it.
We would therefore like to see financial support from the government to cover the costs our members are now facing and loss of sales. We will pursue compensation for any financial losses that the industry incurs.
Simon Ellis, the managing director of a plant nursery which is suing the government after being forced to destroy 50,000 ash trees, has claimed the situation is out of control.
He said the government should have taken notice when there was an ash dieback outbreak three years ago in Denmark.
"They [the government] should have taken notice of us in the first place… we saw with our own eyes the devastation that was taking place in Denmark.
"They should have listened to us, they should have responded to us far more seriously."
He added: "We invest in these crops during the summer months and harvest at this time of year.
"By imposing the restrictions they have put on us now, it has stopped our income stream before it even started."
Labour's shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh has criticised the government's response to the ash dieback outbreak.
She said: "The government's handling of this crisis has been marked by incompetence and delay.
"The disease was found in a nursery in February - that was the time to act, that was the time to bring in an import ban.
"Instead we've had ministers dithering about and suddenly we've had the ban imposed last week, a COBRA meeting on Friday and a tree taskforce set up.
"That's all happening eight months too late."
Downing Street admitted that there were “questions” over how the government deals with plant diseases amid claims that ministers have been too slow to tackle the ash dieback outbreak.
The prime minister's official spokesman confirmed Owen Paterson will chair a summit on the issue on Wednesday.
Clearly, there are questions about the differences in how we handle different animal and plant diseases.
That is why Owen Paterson set up this taskforce to look at how we handle plant diseases.
One of its jobs is to ensure that we are as well prepared as we can be in future to deal with this kind of problem.
The spokesman said: “The Secretary of State is taking meetings twice a day, bringing together scientists and the key experts... to get updates on the problem and what is being done to tackle it.”
Asked whether compensation would be paid to businesses who lost out as a result of alleged government failings, the spokesman said: "If people are going to claim compensation, that would be an issue that would be dealt with ultimately by the courts."
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural (Defra) has said that "surveillance" was the best way to tackle the spread of the ash dieback disease.
The government's response to the crisis has been criticised but a Defra spokesman said:
At a time when our trees face increasing threat from a range of diseases, and in a tight financial climate, we believe that resources are best spent on surveillance and trying to tackle the disease.
“Hundreds” of staff members were searching land throughout the UK over the weekend for the ash dieback disease, he added.
"They have examined around 2,500 blocks of land, each 10 kilometres square, where mature ash trees are known to be present, in order to seek out traces of the disease in our established trees," he said.
The managing director of a plant nursery which is suing the government after being forced to destroy 50,000 ash trees has hit out at ministers for their handling of the situation.
The BBC reported this morning that the government will not pay out compensation.
Simon Ellis, of Crowders Nurseries in Horncastle, told Radio 4's Today programme that the Horticultural Trades Association wrote to the government in 2009 warning of a new virulent strain of the disease.
They should have taken it seriously at the time. They chose not to and now we have this really dramatic situation and unfortunately, by the sound of it, the ash tree disease has spread throughout the UK.
Norman Smith, BBC News chief political correspondent, tweets:
Govt rejects calls for compensation for "ash tree" victims saying money better spent on prevention #ash
The disease threatening to wipe out the majority of Britain's ash trees may have spread - as experts say an import ban was too slow.Read the full story ›