Christmas tree worry as pine blight spreads

East Anglian growers and woodland managers played down fears of a Christmas tree crisis last night following the rapid spread of a pine-killing disease.

East Anglian growers and woodland managers played down fears of a Christmas tree crisis last night following the rapid spread of a pine-killing disease.

With four months before the festive season, concerns have been raised over the future of the traditional winter harvest as a result of red band needle blight, which has thrived in this year's warm, wet weather conditions.

The concerns come after the Forestry Commission suspended planting of an important timber-producing tree on its land for the next five years after it emerged that 70pc of Corsican pines in the East of England had been infected by the fungal disease.

But forestry officials and farmers yesterday said it was “unlikely” that the Christmas tree trade would be hit by the blight, which has yet to infect spruce and fir species.

The potentially fatal red band needle blight has been affecting pine trees on the continent since the 1990s, but the warmer and wetter climate has resulted in epidemic levels at Thetford Forest - Britain's largest lowland pine woodland.

Ironically, Corsican pines, which had been identified by Forestry Commission climate change models as a species that would thrive over the coming decades, has suffered the most from the disease.

Most Read

The organisation, which oversees 25,000 hectares of woodland in the East of England, is now set to focus on planting more Scots pine, larch and Douglas fir at its nurseries for the timber trade.

Sixty conifer species are prone to infection, with the Forestry Commission monit-oring the potential impact on the lodgepole pine, which is often decorated with tinsel, lights and baubles during the Christmas period.

But Jim Rudderham, forestry and conservation manager at the Elveden Estate, which sells about 25,000 trees every year, said the region's growers would not be affected by the blight because the majority focused on other Christmas varieties.

“There is a concern that it is spreading, but there is no sign at the moment that it is affecting spruce and fir trees,” he said.

Steve Scott, regional director for the Forestry Commission in the East of England, said it was unfortunate the region's Corsican pines had been hardest hit by red band needle blight.

“Because of the sandy soil, we have tended to grow more pine than other areas and the thought is that the blight has come from the continent. We are in the wrong place, have had the wrong weather, and we have the wrong types of trees. This is something we could have done with without, but these things are sent to try us and we will try and adapt,” he said.

He added that popular tourist spots like Thetford Forest would see a more diverse mix of trees in the future as a result of the blight.

A spokesman from the British Christmas Tree Growers' Association added: “Red band needle blight is not something that frightens us. It concerns us and will be a concern if it jumps species, but as it stands we are fairly relaxed.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter