Sign our Open Letter to Stop Fireblight – Hedgerows Ireland

Hedgerows Ireland, An Taisce, and the Environmental Pillar appeal for signatures on their open letter to Minister McConalogue, asking him to take decisive action on the risk of Fireblight in Ireland.

Sign our Open Letter to Stop Fireblight - Hedgerows Ireland Fireblight is a bacterial disease that may result in the removal of Ireland’s emblematic Hawthorn hedgerows if allowed to spread. Its other common host trees include apple, pear, rowan, and Cotoneaster. Symptoms include the withering of shoots and leaves (‘Shepherd’s Stick’), cankers, and bacterial ooze. There are no treatments for Fireblight, hence the only way to halt its spread is by burning or destroying infected trees. Fireblight is known to enter through latent infections on imported plants and is suited to our temperate climate. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has confirmed 17 outbreaks across 11 counties in Ireland in 2023. It previously caused the removal of over 800km of hedgerows in Germany. It is of the utmost urgency that we halt these outbreaks and prevent new ones from developing.

Sign our Open Letter to Stop Fireblight - Hedgerows Ireland

Mark McDowell, protecting hedgerows since 2004 and Public Relations Officer with Hedgerows Ireland, said:

Nothing marks the passage of natural time on our island quite the way the Hawthorn does. From the showstopping displays of blossom which had the entire country talking last May, to the red harvest of the haws in August and September, these transformations keep us in touch with the real rhythms that govern our planet. Hedgerows provide the necessities of life for so many of our native birds, insects, mammals, and plants which bring so much joy to our lives. Yet we risk losing it all through the unnecessary importation of infected plants. This activity is indefensible and inexcusable, which of our politicians wants to wear the t-shirt saying “I imported Fireblight”?

Sign our Open Letter to Stop Fireblight - Hedgerows Ireland

Dr. Elaine McGoff, Head of Advocacy with An Taisce, said:

“The implications of an outbreak of Fireblight in the Irish countryside is unthinkable. We’re in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, and our remaining hedgerows are a lifeline for nature. The ill-advised importation of Hawthorn could ultimately lead to the widescale loss of valuable hedging throughout the land, with dire consequences for our beleaguered birds, mammals, and insects, with knock-on impacts for the likes of water quality. Have we learned no lessons from Ash Dieback?”

Sign our Open Letter to Stop Fireblight - Hedgerows Ireland Fintan Kelly, Agriculture and Land Use Policy and Advocacy Officer with the Environmental Pillar, said:

“We are very concerned that the iconic, native Irish Hawthorn is under threat from the bacterial disease Fireblight which was likely introduced into Ireland on imports of hedging plants. The devastation caused by Ash Dieback should serve as a stark warning about the consequences of complacency around the importation of plants and the need to quickly control outbreaks of disease. Given the importance of protecting native habitats and the species that rely upon them, we are urging the Department of Agriculture to halt the importation of hedging plants due to concerns over the potential importation of further disease. It is also essential that the Department reinstates the Irish Provenance/Irish Origin requirements for Hawthorn in ACRES hedgerow planting.”

In order to protect Ireland’s hedgerows, we ask the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to:

  1. Reinstate the Irish Provenance/Irish Origin requirements for Hawthorn in ACRES hedgerow planting and delay planting actions until the demand-supply gap is filled.
  2. Suspend imports of Hawthorn plants due to the potential risk of importing disease.
  3. Clarify how natural and cultural hedgerow heritage was assessed when deciding the Generic Contingency Plan’s alert status for Fireblight. If this was not assessed, raise the alert status and establish a Co-Ordination Group including ecologists to address all risks to Ireland’s hedgerows.
  4. Continue to promote funding for native tree nurseries under the Seed Stand & Seed Orchard Schemes plus the Investment Aid for the Development of the Forest Tree Nursery Sector Scheme.

Read the full open letter and sign it here:

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