Court Halts Removal of Xylella-Infected Millenary Trees in Puglia

Local agricultural associations protested a local court's decision and said it would result in further damage to the region’s olive trees.
Salento, Italy
By Paolo DeAndreis
May. 12, 2022 13:48 UTC

Dozens of cen­turies-old olive trees in the Monumental Olive Tree Valley in the south­ern Italian region of Puglia will not be destroyed even if they are infected with Xylella fas­tidiosa.

A regional court decided to with­hold some of the pro­vi­sions of a recently-approved regional reg­u­la­tion to curb the spread of the deadly olive tree pathogen.

The need for a quick inter­ven­tion is some­thing we have asked for years to pre­vent the sig­nif­i­cant olive cul­ture her­itage of Puglia and its eco­nomic, touris­tic and land­scape from col­laps­ing.- Savino Muraglia, pres­i­dent, Coldiretti Puglia

Xylella fas­tidiosa, which causes Quick Olive Decline Syndrome and spreads quickly through var­i­ous insect vec­tors, is respon­si­ble for the death of mil­lions of olive trees in Puglia since it was first detected in 2013.

According to the Italian news agency Ansa, the pro­pri­etors of 37 mon­u­men­tal olive trees around Ostuni will not have to com­ply with the rules stip­u­lat­ing the trees are destroyed.

See Also:Xylella Arrived in Italy from a Costa Rican Coffee Plant, Researchers Say

However, they will have to imple­ment all of the agro­nomic prac­tices iden­ti­fied by the reg­u­la­tion to limit the repro­duc­tion of the Xylella fas­tidiosa vec­tor insects.

The Apulian Regional Administrative Tribunal said all the con­tain­ment mea­sures must be car­ried out by June 30 for the trees not to be destroyed.

The tight dead­line is because most spit­tle­bugs, a major vec­tor insect for Xyella fas­tidiosa, are matur­ing into adults dur­ing these cru­cial weeks.

Most of the con­tain­ment mea­sures aim to dras­ti­cally reduce the oppor­tu­ni­ties for the insect to repro­duce and mature in the veg­e­ta­tion found near the olive groves.

According to Rosa Fanizzi, the lawyer who rep­re­sented the own­ers of the affected trees, the court ruled against the regional gov­ern­ment because its reg­u­la­tion con­tra­dicted national law.

She argued that by requir­ing the infected trees to be destroyed as the only pos­si­ble con­tain­ment mea­sure,” author­i­ties would be unable to study other exper­i­men­tal con­tain­ment mea­sures.

The tri­bunal judges said the mon­u­men­tal olive trees are sub­ject to a spe­cial sta­tus that pro­tects them from the direct appli­ca­tion of some spe­cific mea­sures.

There is an obvi­ous risk of seri­ous and irrepara­ble dam­age result­ing from the dras­tic nature of the con­tested abate­ment mea­sure,” they wrote. The grant­ing of pre­cau­tion­ary pro­tec­tion must be sub­ject to the prac­ti­cal imple­men­ta­tion of alter­na­tive mea­sures to culling.”

Some tree own­ers have cov­ered their olive trees to iso­late the plants from poten­tial Xyella fas­tidiosa vec­tors, which did not con­vince the judges.

Putting the so-called hood on the infected olive tree… does not appear suf­fi­cient to pre­vent the risk of Xylella fas­tidiosa spread­ing, even more with the onset of sum­mer­time, which makes con­ta­gion more prob­a­ble,” the judges wrote.

Among the manda­tory mea­sures listed by the judges as viable alter­na­tives to the destruc­tion of the trees are pol­lard­ing – the process of remov­ing the upper branches of a tree – and graft­ing the trees with resilient cul­ti­vars.

Despite these mea­sures, local farm­ers harshly crit­i­cized the tri­bunal rul­ing. Copagri, an agri­cul­tural pro­duc­ers con­fed­er­a­tion, said the graft­ing tech­nique does not work and infected trees should always be removed. The con­fed­er­a­tion also asked for infected trees to con­tinue being removed.


The mon­u­men­tal olive trees are a com­mu­nal her­itage which has to be pro­tected as much as pos­si­ble,” said Tommaso Battista, pres­i­dent of Copagri Puglia.

Having said this, we believe that 10 years after the detec­tion of Xylella fas­tidiosa in Puglia… it is from sci­ence that should be get­ting answers needed by both farm­ers and all cit­i­zens who love the extra­or­di­nary land­scape of our region,” he added.

It is unthink­able to con­tinue pro­mot­ing the graft­ing tech­nique, which numer­ous sci­en­tific papers have shown does not have any sci­en­tific basis,” Battista con­tin­ued.

Battista also empha­sized how the regional phy­tosan­i­tary pub­lic ser­vices had already clar­i­fied how there is no sci­en­tific evi­dence that the graft­ing tech­nique is use­ful.”

They even empha­sized how such oper­a­tions might present risks, the extent of which can­not be cal­cu­lated due to the lack of long-last­ing mon­i­tor­ing oper­a­tions regard­ing the resilience and genomic integrity of the two olive cul­ti­vars cur­rently con­sid­ered resilient to Xylella, not immune, which are Leccino and FS17,” he added.

The Apulian branch of the farm­ing asso­ci­a­tion Coldiretti also crit­i­cized the tribunal’s rul­ing.

Infected olive trees remain active out­breaks, sources of infec­tion for the spit­tle­bug, the insect which allows Xylella to spread,” said Savino Muraglia, Coldiretti Puglia’s pres­i­dent and an olive oil pro­ducer.

He recalled instances in the last decade when infected plants have not been removed in sev­eral areas, with con­se­quences still widely felt.

Puglia has already paid for the havoc that has been per­pe­trated, for exam­ple, in Oria and Francavilla where, in order to not tear down 47 sick olive trees as appeals in the tri­bunal blocked removal oper­a­tions, 3,100 trees have died because of the killer bac­terium and allowed the vec­tor to con­tinue to infect thou­sands of even mon­u­men­tal spec­i­mens,” Muraglia said.

The need for a quick inter­ven­tion is some­thing we have asked for years to pre­vent the sig­nif­i­cant olive cul­ture her­itage of Puglia and its eco­nomic, touris­tic and land­scape from col­laps­ing,” he added.

The regional sec­re­tary to agri­cul­ture and one of the pro­mot­ers of the regional law, Donato Pentassuglia, said the tri­bunal order does not change the nature of the local reg­u­la­tion.

According to La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno, Pentassuglia said that graft­ing oper­a­tions have been brought for­ward only by a few own­ers and insisted that the region con­tinue ask­ing them to remove and destroy the trees.

The Apulian Regional Administrative Tribunal will fully address the mat­ter in a deci­sion expected by December.


Related Articles