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First cases of deadly Chalara ash tree disease confirmed in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 17:46 24 October 2012 | UPDATED: 09:48 25 October 2012

NWT Lower Wood in  Ashwellthorpe, where ash trees are being investigated for suspected Chalara infection. Pic by Lucy Denman

NWT Lower Wood in Ashwellthorpe, where ash trees are being investigated for suspected Chalara infection. Pic by Lucy Denman

Lucy Denman

The first confirmed cases of a deadly tree disease in East Anglia’s established woodland have been found in the countryside around Norwich.

Officers from the Forestry Commission’s plant health team have been investigating suspected cases of Chalara dieback of ash, a serious fungal infection which has caused widespread damage to forests across Europe.

The disease was unknown in Britain until early in 2012, but has been found in recent plantings of young trees supplied from infected nurseries on the continent – including at sites in Suffolk.

But this afternoon, forestry officers confirmed that it had now also been found in established ash trees in the wider East Anglian countryside at four undisclosed sites, including a woodland, a paddock and two hedgerows to the north and south of Norwich.

The confirmed sites do not, as yet, include the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Lower Wood in Ashwellthorpe, near Wymondham, where lab tests are being finalised on samples taken from “highly symptomatic” ash trees.

Steve Scott, area director for the Forestry Commission, said the full extent of the outbreak was not yet known.

He said: “The cases found in Suffolk were young trees from contaminated plants, which have all been pulled up and burned. The problem with trees in the wider environment is that you need to get a full picture of the likely spread of the infection before you make decisions about what action to take.

“We have got more suspected sites along the lines of Ashwellthorpe and a number of those are being processed at the moment. It could be two or three weeks before we know the full extent of the spread.”

Mr Scott said his key messages at the moment were for people to report any suspected cases as soon as possible, and for people working in or visiting woodland to clean their boots and tools when moving between sites, to stop the infection spreading.

Dr John Morgan, head of the Forestry Commission’s Plant Health Service, said: “Scientists from our own Forest Research agency are also carrying out diagnostic tests on a number of other samples from established woodland trees in East Anglia with symptoms indicative of this disease, and we expect the results within a few days.

“It is still early days and investigations are continuing, but there is a possibility that the East Anglia outbreak is an isolated one which has been present for some time. This emphasises the importance of preventing spread further afield.”

As a precaution until the situation becomes clearer, Dr Morgan said the commission is suspending the planting of ash trees in the public forests it manages.

The government is also preparing to impose restrictions on imports and movements of ash plants and seeds into and within Great Britain. Meanwhile the Forestry Commission has sent a letter to all its customers this week, warning them of the threat of Chalara dieback, and asking them to consider alternate species in tree-planting schemes.

The symptoms of Chalara infection in ash trees include blackened dead leaves clinging to branches and purple lesions on stems.

To report potential cases, contact the Forest Research Tree Health Diagnostic and Advisory Service on 01420 23000 or email ddas.ah@forestry.gsi.gov.uk. For more information, see www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara.

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