Farmers are being urged to report incidents of diseased trees amid concern that the government is doing too little to curtail the spread of ash dieback.
More than 100,000 ash trees and saplings have been destroyed in a bid to control the spread of Chalara fraxinea - a fungus which experts fear poses the biggest threat to British woodlands since 25m trees were killed by Dutch elm disease 30 years ago.
An immediate ban on imports of ash trees was announced on Monday (30 October), ahead of the main planting season in late November. Movement restrictions will also be imposed, so trees from infected areas will not be able to be moved to other locations within the UK.
DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson said: "This is a very serious disease that demands action to stop its spread. I have ordered both an import ban and movement restrictions on trees from infected areas. This comes into force immediately."
Suspected cases of the disease should be reported to the Forestry Commission or the Food and Environment Research Agency so that appropriate action could be taken to prevent the disease from spreading, said DEFRA.
But critics fear the import ban is too late to prevent the disease from taking hold. DEFRA secretary Mary Creagh accused the government of being "asleep on the job". Ash dieback had been found in the UK as early as February. "The question on everyone's lips is: 'Why did it take so long?'"
Harry Cotterell, president of the Country Land and Business Association, urged landowners to work with DEFRA and the Forestry Commission to report incidences of the disease. The CLA was ready to help develop sensible and pragmatic control measures.
"The loss of ash trees would be a disaster," said Mr Cotterell.
"However, the ban does not appear to cover imports of ash firewood and woodchip. Moving firewood from infected areas within the UK has been banned, so we would like to know why this has not been included under the import ban."
Johann Tasker on G+
More on this topic
Tips for spotting ash tree disease
Have your say on our forums