IT will not be possible to get rid of ash dieback, which has been confirmed near Wooler in Northumberland. This grim warning came from Environment Secretary Owen Paterson as he announced Government plans to deal with the disease, which has now been identified at 129 confirmed sites, including 64 cases in woodland.
The Chalara fraxinea fungus, which causes leaf loss and crown dieback and can lead to tree death in ash trees, has wiped out 90% of ash trees in some parts of Denmark and is becoming widespread throughout central Europe.
But Mr Paterson raised hopes that trees could be identified which were resistant to the disease and said the condition did not necessarily spell the end of the British ash.
There are fears that the UK’s ash trees are facing a similar fate to its elms, which were destroyed by Dutch elm disease in the 1970s. The Government has ruled out cutting down and burning mature ash trees to stop the disease.
Mature trees are valuable to wildlife, take longer to die and can help experts to learn more about genetic strains that could be resistant to the disease, officials said.
The action plan will focus on tracing and destroying newly-planted trees and those in nurseries, and better understanding the disease through research and surveying.
The search for the disease will include ash trees in towns and cities as well as the countryside, while there are plans to raise awareness among industry, conservation groups and the public on how to identify diseased trees and those likely to be resistant.
Mr Paterson said: “The scientific advice is that it won’t be possible to eradicate this disease now that we have discovered it in mature trees in Great Britain.
“However, that does not necessarily mean the end of the British ash, if we can find those trees with genetic resistance to the disease and to restructure our woodlands to make them more resilient.
“If we know a small number of trees survived the intense epidemic in Denmark there must be hope here.
“If we can identify a genetic strain that is resistant, as soon as we get that, as ash grows quite fast, we can start to replace diseased trees.”
Defra will work with foresters, land managers, environment groups and the general public to help people learn how to identify diseased trees and those likely to be resistant to the disease. Mr Paterson said: “The groups that put such a lot of effort into looking after our wildlife and our countryside will play a major role in minimising the impact of Chalara and so will the general public, especially when it comes to spotting other areas where the disease has taken hold.” The Government has already banned the import of ash trees and the movement of trees around the country.
Information on Chalara, including videos on how to identify the disease and detail of confirmed cases in new plantings and the wider environment, can be found at www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara