By Jen Dickie
If you have ever visited Australia you will have experienced a force to be reckoned with- the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service; woe betide anyone who forgets the piece of fruit squashed at the bottom of their hand luggage! Few places exist where the importance of biosecurity is more prominent to the general public than in Australia’s airports where strict regulations are imposed on the importation of food, plant material and animal products to minimise the risk of exotic pests and diseases entering the country. Whilst public awareness campaigns of biosecurity issues are common in Australia, in the UK it appears that both public and governmental awareness only increase after the damage has been done.
Over the last few weeks, Chalara fraxinea, or ash dieback as it is commonly known, has dominated the news. This virulent fungal disease is thought to have hitched a lift with imported saplings from Europe and has already been confirmed in over 80 locations (Forestry Commission, 5th Nov). Patrick Barkham from The Guardian questions whether more could have been done to prevent this outbreak and criticises the government for the “apparently sluggish response” to the disease. As fears grow over the future of our woodlands, more threats from foreign pathogens to our native species are coming out of the woodwork, with Robin McKie from The Observer warning that the Scots pine “could be the next casualty of a ‘tidal wave’ of tree diseases”.
However, it is not just the plant kingdom that is under threat. The controversial badger cull to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) has recently been discussed in parliament. In an article for The Geographical Journal, Gareth Enticott, Alex Franklin and Steven Van Winden explore different biosecurity strategies and behaviours practiced by farmers in response to bTB. Their findings suggest that the promotion of biosecurity to farmers should draw on locally situated practices and knowledge rather than taking a standardised approach. They argue that policy-makers need to “re-evaluate the purpose of disease control and their approaches to it”.
It has taken a series of pest and disease outbreaks for the seriousness of the UK’s biosecurity to hit the headlines. Lessons can be learned from the Australian approach but as more reports emerge, claiming that the government was aware of the ash dieback invasion three years ago, perhaps more focus is needed on biosecurity risk assessments rather than on mitigation efforts once the problem has taken hold.
Gareth Enticott, Alex Franklin and Steven Van Winden, 2012, Biosecurity and food security: spatial strategies for combating bovine tuberculosis in the UK, The Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00475.x
Scots pine could be next casualty of a ‘tidal wave’ of tree diseases, The Observer, 3 November 2012
The ash tree crisis: a disaster in the making, The Guardian, 30 October 2012
Badger cull: MPs vote 147 to 28 for abandoning cull entirely, The Guardian, 25th October 2012
Ash disease found in Essex and Kent, Forestry Commission, 5th November 2012