Ash disease sites double in a month to 300
Ash disease sites double in a month to 300 | Mail Online
- Lethal ash dieback found at nearly 300 sites
- Conservationists tell Government its ‘too little, too late’
By Tamara Cohen
18:16 EST, 6 December 2012
20:41 EST, 6 December 2012
The killer ash tree disease has now been found at nearly 300 sites as conservation groups slammed the Government’s response as ‘too little, too late’.
Ministers yesterday unveiled a strategy to tackle ash dieback, and claimed it caught officials unaware earlier this year when the first case was revealed in Britain.
The number of infected sites is now 291 – and the number has doubled in just one month.
Lethal: Ash dieback, pictured, has been found at nearly 300 sites – double the number of sites in one month
But campaigners, who raised fears that Britain was at risk from the infection from imported trees four years ago, said the plan did not go far enough and would ‘surrender the landscape’ to ash dieback.
All 80 million ash trees, Britain’s third most abundant type and a staple of the timber industry, are at risk from the pest which has wiped out 90 per cent of ash trees in Denmark and could be as devastating as Dutch elm disease was in the 1970s.
The plan announced by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is intended to reduce the spread of the disease, as Government scientific advisers claim it cannot now be eradicated.
It is believed to have arrived on imported young ash trees, and blown across as spores from the Continent.
Mr Paterson announced more research into how the infection spreads, a ‘risk register’ for infected trees and improved security measures at border controls.
Experts will locate trees which have genetic resistance to the fungus which could be used to ‘restructure’ infected forests.
He said: ‘We need to radically rethink how we deal with the threats to our trees. While the science tells us it won’t be possible to eradicate this disease, we mustn’t give up on British ash. The plan I have set out shows our determination to slow the spread and minimise the impact.’
Dr Simon Pryor, of the National Trust, said the actions in the plan were paltry, and he accused the government of ‘surrendering’ by backing out of testing all recently planted trees and destroying infected ones.
The National Trust has destroyed 3,000 recently planted ash saplings on its land after five outbreaks.
He said: ‘The limited actions and weak commitments set out in the plan will not be enough to achieve the aim of controlling the spread of the disease. It’s far too little, too late.
‘Our collective knowledge of this disease is limited, and it is good to see a workshop on research priorities is being proposed, but we are concerned that this is entirely focused on breeding resistance rather than on techniques that could reduce the rate of spread.’
Ash dieback is caused by the chalara fraxinea fungs and is rife in northern Europe. It was discovered in Britain for the first time in a nursery in Buckinghamshire.
Devastation: The disease is hitting one of the most common types of tree in Britain and the impact is evident on the infected ash leaf, right
The symptoms are small discoloured patches on the trees stem which develop into bigger lesions and the leaves wilting and young trees die quickly.
The first outbreak in the wild was in woodland in Norfolk in October, and it has now been found at 155 mature woodlands, 119 recently planted areas and 17 nurseries nationwide.
Professor Ian Boyd, chief scientist at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the disease had caught the UK off guard. He said: ‘It simply fell below the radar to be honest. It’s very difficult thing to identify.’
Mr Paterson told the House of Commons last month that he would allocate money for an ‘early warning system’ made up of trained volunteers from groups such as the Woodland Trust to ‘play a really important role’ in monitoring tree health.
But Woodland Trust chief executive Sue Holden said the plan was ‘disappointing’ especially as Britain faces a growing numbers of woodland pests and diseases due to global trade.
She said: ‘There is a distinct lack of political interest in supporting the UK’s natural infrastructure despite the Government’s own figures valuing the benefits of our woods and trees at around £1.2bn a year. It is clear the Government is playing scientific catch up, completely unprepared for the crisis our ash trees are now facing.’