In response to demand surpassing supply, last month DAFM waived the necessity for whitethorn planted under ACRES to be of native provenance.

Whitethorn is a host plant for fire blight disease (Erwinia amylovora). Fire blight is indigenous to North America and has spread to Europe. It afflicts over 200 plant species, including apple, pear, raspberry, quince and rowan (mountain ash), with severe infections culminating in the death of the tree. There is no known effective cure for fire blight, and it readily spreads between trees via wind, rainfall splashes, or contaminated gardening tools. DAFM reports that “the pest is well suited to Irish climatic conditions”.

Symptoms of infestation are usually not initially evident, but become expressed when plants are under stress. This makes it difficult to screen plants for fire blight.

ACRES is a scheme conceptualised to help address widespread biodiversity decline in Ireland. Importing disease risk to meet tree planting targets, seems a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Extending planting timelines to facilitate national production meeting demand, could offer a more prudent alternative.

Simultaneously, the promotion of more diverse hedgerow planting, leveraging the abundance of our 28 native tree and shrub species, could temper the overriding demand for whitethorn while also benefitting biodiversity.

In Ireland, fire blight is a regulated pest and reported cases are eradicated, with the exception of in Galway city, where fire blight is believed to have been introduced on imported plants and the disease is now established.

  • Report suspected cases of fire blight to: