Fireblight concerns for Ireland’s hedgerows

Environmental organisations raise concerns over the risk of fireblight from hawthorn imports in Ireland.

Jay eating hawthorn berries

In an open letter the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue, Hedgerows Ireland, An Taisce, and the Environmental Pillar warn of making the same mistakes as with ash dieback and highlighting the dangers posed by fireblight. The environmental organisations urge the Minister to take action to stop the spread of fireblight in Ireland.

“Ireland is still managing the fallout from ash dieback, which was most likely introduced through imports from EU member states”, state the organisations in the letter.

Fireblight is a bacterial disease whose common hosts include hawthorn, cotoneaster, apple, pear, and rowan. Symptoms include; withering of shoots and leaves, cankers, and bacterial ooze. Fireblight enters through latent infections on imported plants and is suited to Ireland’s temperate climate. According to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) there have been 17 reported outbreaks in 2023.

“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”, explained the head of advocacy An Taisce, Dr. Elaine McGoff. According to Goff, that would lead to dire consequences for Ireland’s already, beleaguered birds, mammals, and insects, with further knock-on effects on water quality.

Hedgerows Ireland, An Taisce and the Environmental Pillar urge the DAFM to:

  • Reinstate the Irish Provenance/Irish Origin requirements for Hawthorn in ACRES hedgerow planting and delay planting actions until the demand-supply gap is filled.
  • Suspend imports of Hawthorn plants due to the potential risk of importing disease.
  • 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.
  • 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.

The environmental organisations are also asking support from the public to sign their open letter to advocate for urgent government action.