Many foresters are now questioning the wisdom of allowing the importation of firewood from Eastern Europe into Ireland. They are concerned that this may pose a threat to our current disease-free status.
If pests such as the spruce bark beetle ever start to breed
in our woodlands, we are in big trouble and the consequences could be catastrophic.
In Ireland, we have strict rules and regulations in place regarding the import of timber and timber products. This is to protect us from the ravages of the many exotic pests and diseases that cost the timber industries in other countries fortunes in lost production.
As our climate changes, many of the insects and fungi that threaten our woodland could now survive and breed in Ireland and officials from the Forest Service are continually checking the pallet wood, packing and timber that arrives here from all over the world.
One further worry is the amount of wood fuel that is being imported in containers. Firewood in the form of logs, along with pellets, pressed sawdust and other sawmill by products from other EC countries and further afield are widely available here.
Many imported logs are in net bags and arrive here in containers packed in large lots. Despite our stringent controls, it must be a daunting task to inspect them all properly.
The bark beetles are potentially the most serious threat. The eight-toothed spruce bark beetle is endemic on the continent but is not yet present in Ireland or Great Britain. It is probably the most serious pest of spruce in Europe. During non-outbreak periods the beetle breeds in wind-blown trees, logs, and freshly felled trees. During outbreak it kills healthy trees and can act as a carrier for several fungi which further contribute to the death of infested trees.
The great spruce bark beetle is also widespread on the continent and this species has now become established in parts of Great Britain.
Irish forests are among the healthiest in Europe, with relatively few serious forest pests and diseases. This is mainly due to our island status and the relative newness of our forest estate. We must strive to ensure this situation remains.
The increasing movement between countries of plant material and wood products greatly increases the risk of spread of potentially very damaging forest pests and diseases. Dutch elm disease, which was introduced into Ireland, devastated our elm tree population. That is perhaps the most striking example of what can happen if any of the many exotic beetles or fungal diseases arrive here on our shores.
Currently, Ireland's plant health regulations demand that the importation of coniferous wood with bark attached remains strictly prohibited. This is to prevent the introduction of a range of bark beetle and weevil pests.
In addition, certain plant and plant products moving into or within Ireland from other EU member states must be accompanied by a valid Plant Passport confirming their safety for use here. But the danger remains and just one batch of infected wood could cost our forest industry millions.
Unusual signs or symptoms of sickness or attack such as top dying, severe wilt, and the presence of insects beneath the bark or on the foliage, plus tree deaths, should be reported immediately to your local forestry inspector or Teagasc forestry advisor.
There is a full list of the many exotic pests and diseases available on the Forest Service website. It is well worth taking a look and checking the health of our own trees and monitoring their progress for any unusual signs of attack.
It is in all our interests that our increasingly valuable forest estate remains protected.