Covering business in the parliamentary chamber as well as individual committees and cross-party groups from the last fortnight
The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee has started an inquiry into the threat of Chalara ash dieback in Scotland.
Environment minister Paul Wheelhouse updated MSPs on the committee on the current numbers of trees affected and what was being done to prevent it from spreading.
He said: “Regretfully ash dieback is clearly present in the UK and is likely to spread further. Following the surveys that have been carried out we have 241 firm cases in the UK of which 17 are in nurseries, 97 in recent planting sites and 127 mature trees in the wider environment. In Scotland, we have 23 confirmed cases including one nursery as well as 18 recent planting sites and four sites in the wider environment.
“Last Friday I made a private visit to one of these sites in the wider environment near Eyemouth in terms of the difficulty of identifying mature disease trees where symptoms are more subtle to see. I’ve been working very closely with the UK Government and the other devolved administrations on this problem and earlier in the month we took a rapid snapshot survey to get a better feel for the current extent of the disease in Scotland and I would like to pay tribute to all those who took part in the survey at very short notice.
“This survey was initiated on Thursday 1 November and completed just five days later, ahead of schedule, indeed Forestry Commission staff went on to help counterparts in Northumberland.
“I’ve taken part in the emergency Cobra meetings chaired by Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State at Defra and my officials are working closely with colleagues in other parts of the UK to develop a control plan which is expected to be published within the next week or so.
“Meantime we have a ban on the import and movement of ash plants within the UK, a plan that the Scottish Government supports. An independent export task force on tree health and plant buyer security, led by Defra’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, has been appointed to advise on tree and plant disease threats and make recommendations about how those threats could be addressed, it includes three experts from Scottish universities, we’re also expecting this taskforce to publish its interim report from next week but will produce a final report in 2013. We have also commissioned an independent consultant, Dr Rick Worrell, to produce an initial assessment of potential ecological and economic impacts of Chalara in Scotland. This report will also be published in early December.
“The Scottish summit which I held two weeks ago, which was attended by more than 40 stakeholders, identified a number of key actions which we are taking forward. The Forestry Commission is taking advice on the management of ash including the sensitive management of mature trees, techniques that could slow down the spread of the disease and lessen its impact, identification of resistant strains of ash and examining if there would be suitable isolated areas that would act as a refuge for ash in Scotland.
“We also want to develop affordable and practical approaches to dealing with the planting sites.
“Although ash is not a major component of woods and forests in Scotland, it is an important feature of our landscape, has considerable biodiversity value and is also one of the most productive broadleaf species in terms of timber and firewood. I can assure the committee that we will take all reasonable steps to limit the impact of this disease although ash dieback is just one of a number of tree health problems that we are facing at the moment.
“We have, for example, Dothistroma, or red band needle blight affecting pine trees especially in the north and east of the country which poses a threat to the iconic Scots Pine and a range of threats from Phytophthora including the current threat of Phytophthora Ramorumon particularly in Galloway and Argyllshire.”
South Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine asked about investigations into whether liquid air energy storage could be used as part of plans to create a low carbon economy in Scotland.
Liquid air is air cooled to an extremely low temperature that can be used as an alternative energy source.
Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth Secretary John Swinney said: “Electricity storage could play an increasingly valuable role in Scotland’s power network. We are working with engineering institutions and other expert stakeholders to assess the potential for all emerging storage technologies, including liquid air energy storage, to contribute to our energy objectives for Scotland.” McAlpine said she had been approached by a constituent who worked with companies that specialised in liquid air technology and wanted to see what could be done to encourage firms to move to Scotland from other parts of the United Kingdom.
Swinney said: “In terms of the business development aspects of any company that is wishing to develop in the low-carbon economy, the low-carbon economy is clearly a major focus of the Government’s economic strategy, which is taken forward on our behalf by Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, with Scottish Development International providing international support. At the business development level, there are a variety of interventions that could be applied.
I am very happy to pass on any particular business connections that have come to Joan McAlpine in the direction of the enterprise agencies.
“At a policy level, there are clearly issues in relation to the United Kingdom Government’s electricity market reform agenda that will be relevant. The Scottish Government is constructively engaged with the UK Government on that agenda.”