The Government has unveiled plans for controlling ash dieback as the number of sites where the fatal tree disease has been found nears 300.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson set out actions to reduce the rate of spread of Chalara ash dieback and develop disease-resistant trees, but conservation groups warned the Government was not doing enough to protect UK woodlands.
The disease has been identified in 155 sites in the wider countryside, 119 areas where ash trees have recently been planted, and 17 nurseries.
It has been found in just one site in the West Country – on private land, near Nether Stowey in Somerset. The single sapling was destroyed.
The Chalara fraxinea fungus, which causes leaf loss and crown dieback and can lead to tree death in ash trees, has wiped out 90 per cent of ash trees in some parts of Denmark.
The discovery earlier this year that it was in the UK, has prompted fears of similar devastation as that wrought by Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.
The control plan unveiled by the Environment Department yesterday includes measures to reduce the disease’s spread, including by funding research on the production of spores at infected sites, and working with other European countries to develop resistant trees.
The genetic markers for resistance have been identified in Poland, and UK officials hope to benefit from progress already made in other countries to address Chalara.
There are also plans to accelerate the development of a tree health early warning system using volunteer groups, and to support a biosecurity-themed show garden at next year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
A task force has made initial recommendations for a risk register for tree health and for measures to reduce the chances of diseases spreading at UK borders.
The task force also wants a chief plant health officer to be appointed to manage tree health in the same way the Government’s chief vet is in charge of dealing with livestock diseases.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “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 of Chalara.”
He also said there was a need to rethink how to deal with the growing threats to the UK’s trees. The Government has put £8 million into tree disease research.
But Woodland Trust chief executive Sue Holden said there was a lack of political interest in supporting the UK’s natural infrastructure, and the Government was playing scientific catch-up on the Chalara crisis.
Owen Paterson says we need to rethink how we deal with threats to trees