Biosecurity FAQ

A call was put out on social media to ask people for their biosecurity questionsAuthor: Katherine Deeks, Biosecurity Officer.

Often when we’re out and about, delivering talks or training, my colleagues and I get asked the same questions on biosecurity. This post takes a look at some of these common questions and a few extra ones following a call on social media.

If you have any other questions on general tree health or biosecurity that aren’t answered below, then please do get in touch.

*Please note that some of the submitted questions have been edited for clarity*

The Big Questions
What’s the point of doing biosecurity, does it really have an impact?
Why should I undertake biosecurity when others don’t?
I’m so busy, how will I find the time to follow biosecurity advice?
Aren’t pests and disease just going to get here and spread anyway?
How long do pests and diseases survive for?
What do I do if I suspect ill health in trees?

Woodland Visitors
My dog and children really like sticks that they find whilst playing in the woods and often want to take them home. Is this ok?
Do I need special equipment to clean my boots, bike and/or buggy?
Where and when am I supposed to wash my boots, bike and/or buggy?
What about my dog’s paws?

Professionals
When, where and how should I clean my kit?
What should be included in a biosecurity kit and where can I get one from?
What disinfectants should I be using, when and how?

The Big Questions

What’s the point in doing biosecurity, does it really have an impact?
The simple answer is yes, it does have an impact. Pests and diseases can be moved from site to site in soil, water, live plants and other organic material, so cleaning your boots, tools and machinery between sites will help reduce the risk of moving potentially infected material and spreading harmful pests and diseases further.  To see what the scientists say on the matter, take a look at some of the evidence on our website.

Why should I undertake biosecurity when others don’t?
It’s important to lead by example – if we set a high standard, others will follow in our footsteps and biosecurity will become the norm.

It’s also worth remembering that different groups of people will have different expectations when it comes to undertaking biosecurity. For example, tree workers (e.g. foresters, arborists) are at a greater risk of accidentally moving potentially infected material compared to woodland visitors.  This is due to the nature of the work that we do and the distances we sometimes travel to do it.  This is why Forestry Commission England has different guidance for professionals and woodland visitors as part of the Keep it Clean campaign.

I’m so busy, how will I find the time to follow biosecurity advice?
In most instances, cleaning mud and other debris form your boots and kit takes a matter of minutes. If you make biosecurity part of your everyday routine, it will soon become a habit.

Aren’t pests and disease just going to get here and spread anyway?
We do need to be realistic – pests and diseases are spread via natural pathways such as rain, wind, and animal movements. However, humans have the potential to spread them much further and faster than natural pathways can due to the speed at which we can travel and the amount of material we can move around.   That’s why it’s so important that we do as much as we can to reduce our risk of spreading harmful pests and diseases.

How long do pests and diseases survive for?
This will vary depending on the species, but spores from some tree diseases can live for a very long time, several years in some cases.

What do I do if I suspect ill health in trees?
If you suspect ill health in trees, it’s really important that you report it to us. Please use the Forestry Commission’s online reporting tool, Tree Alert.

Woodland Visitors

My dog and children really like sticks that they find whilst playing in the woods and often want to take them home. Is this ok?
Yes – first and foremost, we want everyone to be able to enjoy the outdoors and our beautiful woods and forests, and finding a really good stick and taking it home with you is a part of this experience. Just be mindful about where the stick has come from – if it’s from a site or area where a harmful pest or disease is present, then material that could potentially spread that pest or disease should not be leaving the site (look out for signs if you’re unsure – signs are often put up to advise of a pest or disease and any associated tree works).

Do I need special equipment to clean my boots, bike and/or buggy?
Not at all, just a stiff brush such as a washing up brush, and a little water. Or alternatively sometimes a stick can be useful to pick and scrape the mud off boots.

Where and when am I supposed to wash my boots, bike and/or buggy?
If you can brush off as much mud as you can before leaving the woodland, that is ideal (this saves getting your car dirty too if driving). But it is more important that your boots, bike and buggy are clean before you head off on your next visit.

What about my dog’s paws?
We suggest wiping your dog’s paws before leaving woodland with a towel or something similar. Not only will this reduce the risk of spreading pest or diseases, but will also help to keep your car/house/dog clean.

Professionals

When, where and how should I clean my kit?
Ideally, you should brush down before leaving any site, but the critical thing is to arrive at any new site clean.  Take a look at our specific guidance for arborists, foresters and landscapers.

What should be included in a biosecurity kit and where can I get one from?
You can find more details on what should be in a biosecurity kit here.  There are retailers where you can buy a biosecurity kit in one click, but you can pick up most of the items separately at any hardware store

What disinfectants should I be using, when and how?
You can find our guidance on using recommended disinfectants (including COSHH assessments and safety data sheets) at the bottom of this page.

NB – If using a disinfectant it is very important that it is applied to a clean surface.  It will not work if applied to a soiled surface so you will still need to brush or wash off any soil and organic material.

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