First occurrence of ‘ash dieback’ in Britain

A fungal disease caused by Chalara fraxinea was found for the first time in a nursery in South East England. The disease is widespread on the Continent and can kill ash trees.

The nursery imported 2,000 ash trees from the Netherlands last autumn and distributed the trees to 90 different companies and gardeners nationwide. The customers were sent instructions recently by the Government’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) to destroy their trees. They have to dig the trees out, chop them up, double bag them and take them to be buried at a landfill site. Fera hopes for co-operation and responsible behaviour from the tree owners.

Additionally, Fera is carrying out an investigation on which overseas nursery the disease originated from and if the fungus has already spread to wild trees in the UK. Some attempts have previously been made to ban ash imports in order to prevent the disease entering Britain but such bans would breach Britain’s obligations under international trade agreements. However, experts are now carrying out a risk assessment to determine the scale of the threat with a view to possible laws banning or restricting imports of ash trees.

Fera is positive about containing the threat of an outbreak this time but close attention is needed in the future to prevent further risks. “The UK has the highest interception rate for pests and diseases on plant material of any EU Member State. This impressive and reassuring statistic is largely thanks to Fera’s Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate.” – states a recent Fera press release.

Symptoms of the disease include black spots that can turn into cankers on the tree’s bark, brittle dying twigs and branches and leaves turning brown or black and wilting before dropping off. Everyone is encouraged to check their ash trees for symptoms and report any suspicious signs to Fera or the Forestry Commission.

More on this issue can be found on the Telegraph’s website.