A disease which is threatening to wipe out millions of native ash trees has reached the West Country, it has been confirmed, prompting fears the region’s landscape could be changed forever.
Experts are warning that ash dieback disease will produce widespread “landscape change” in the rural environment as vast swathes of ash woodlands disappear.
The deadly fungus has been detected by the Forestry Commission in imported saplings recently planted in Devon, the furthest west the disease has travelled so far.
Conservationists predict that as it takes hold, cherished trees will be lost, leaving gaps and holes in the unique hedgerows which criss-cross the region’s countryside and affect the habitat of wildlife.
Cases of chalara ash dieback, which first appeared on the east coast, have now also been confirmed in woodlands in Berkshire.
The latest figures show the disease, caused by the fungus chalara fraxinea, has been found in 61 countryside locations, as well as 39 planting sites and 15 tree nurseries, a total of 115 sites across the UK – as it heads in a steady westward direction across the country.
The fungus, which causes leaf loss and crown dieback, has wiped out 90 per cent of ash trees in some parts of Denmark and is becoming widespread throughout central Europe.
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 1960s and 1970s. Jon Clark, executive director of the Forest of Avon Trust – a charity designed to encourage the growth of woodland in the region – is understandably concerned about the spread of the disease, as it heads westward.
It could be a serious threat to the landscape of our region, because ash trees and oak trees are the main woodland trees here in the South West – if we lost the ash it would be every bit as dramatic as losing the elm 40 years ago, if not more so.”
If the region’s ash population was lost, it could have a devastating knock-on effect for the wildlife that live in the trees – from a variety of bird species, including owls, to rare bat colonies and lichen.
TV wildlife presenter Mike Dilger, who lives in Chew Stoke, Somerset, said he is “extremely concerned” for the future of ash trees in the region.