UK & World News

  • 9 November 2012, 6:58

Ash Dieback: Crisis Plan To Be Released

Ministers will hold a crisis meeting today to discuss a deadly fungal disease threatening millions of the UK's native ash trees.

Department of the Environment officials have been liaising with the Forestry Commission and other agencies to discuss the best way to contain the spread of Chalara fungus, known as ash dieback disease.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who is chairing the summit, convened a Cobra crisis committee to examine the latest developments and co-ordinate a plan of action.

Mr Paterson will later outline the Government's response to the crisis.

So far more than 100 cases have been reported across the country in Sussex, Berkshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Bedfordshire, Northumberland, Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and Essex.

The fungal infection is thought to have arrived in the country on wind-borne spores blown in from mainland Europe.

It causes leaves to turn black and drop off before the crown dies back and the tree eventually dies.

Countries such as France and Belgium have been hit hard by the tree disease, but nowhere has its impact been felt harder than in Denmark - which has lost 90% of its ash trees.

It is feared the disease could have the same impact in Britain as the infamous Dutch Elm epidemic of the 1970s, which wiped out most of the country's elm trees.

There are an estimated 80 million ash trees in Britain - one-third of the entire tree population.

In a bid to contain the epidemic, the importation of ash trees has been banned and the planting of new ones has also been halted.

Officials have also carried out surveys on acres of forest and woodland.

Signs warning visitors to take extra precautions to stop the spread of ash dieback are already posted at several National Trust sites, including Ashridge, Hertfordshire.

Ashridge has hundreds of ash trees in its 5,000 acres of woodland. The site is popular with walkers taking in the magnificent countryside - especially in the autumn.

It has also been the setting for several films, including Sleepy Hollow and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Graeme Cannon, Ashridge Estate manager, told Sky News: "It's potentially very dangerous.

"Ashridge is here because ash trees feature very prominently in its background and they have done for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

''With ash dieback in the country we'll end up in a situation where we will be losing a lot of our trees and they are an important feature of the British landscape and woodland.

"So far we have not had any confirmed cases in Ashridge but if we do then the impact would be catastrophic.''

Mr Cannon said that several of the ash trees were more than 200 years old.

''Although it seems to be impacting younger trees, we would hate to lose those veteran ash," he said.

Infected saplings have been burned to contain the spread, but visitors to woods are also being asked to do their bit by keeping to marked paths to help reduce the spread of infected leaves.

They are also being advised to clean footwear and bike and car tyres of mud and earth when they get home.

Although the Government claims it has acted as swiftly as it could, there has been some criticism that the response has not been quick enough.