Ash dieback: 'Wash after visiting woods' plea

 
An ash sapling There are fears that wind spores could carry the disease out of East Anglia

The environment secretary has urged the public to wash their dogs and boots and even their children after visiting wooded areas, to help stop the spread of a fungus which is killing ash trees.

Owen Paterson spoke after the government's emergency committee Cobra met to discuss the ash dieback menace.

Some 100,000 trees have been destroyed in the UK, where East Anglia has been particularly badly affected.

The infection has affected some 90% of ash trees in Denmark.

Ministers are concerned that the fungus could be present on fallen leaves and could be transferred via leaf mould.

Mr Paterson told the BBC: "Everyone should be responsible and if they do visit a wood just make sure they wash their boots, wash their dog, whatever's been running around the leaves, wash their child, to make sure they don't transfer to the next wood."

About 2,500 10sq km sites across the UK are being surveyed to establish how far the disease has spread, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Amid criticism from Labour, Mr Paterson denied the government had been slow to act when the infection was first discovered.

He said: "This disease was only established here on 7 March. During the summer, trees are not planted so a programme of inspection has gone on during which 100,000 trees have been destroyed.

"But as I have also made clear, this disease as we discovered recently has possibly blown in.

Symptoms of Chalara dieback

  • Diseased saplings typically display dead tops and side shoots.
  • Lesions often found at base of dead side shoots.
  • Lesions on branch or stem can cause wilting of foliage above.
  • Disease affects mature trees by killing off new growth.

"It's on the basis of that information that we're now working together right across government at the highest level, using expertise in every department, to bear down on the disease," he said.

Ash dieback, also known as Chalara dieback, is caused by the fungus Chalara Fraxinea.

The disease was first discovered in the UK in February in a consignment of trees imported from the Netherlands by a nursery in Buckinghamshire.

The Forestry Commission has said it has since been found at sites across England and Scotland, including Leicester, South Yorkshire, County Durham and in Knockmountain Woods near Glasgow.

The trees at all the locations above had been grown from young ash saplings obtained from nurseries within the past five years.

In October, scientists confirmed a spate of cases in Norfolk and Suffolk in trees not planted recently, which appear to form a wider infection zone.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke on how to spot an infected ash tree

Mobile app

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh has accused the government of "dithering" over the issue and has expressed concerns over cutbacks to the Forestry Commission's budget.

But environment minister David Heath denied there had been any cut back in resources "applied to plant health and tree health in this country".

Visible symptoms of ash dieback include leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees and it can lead to tree death.

The disease has been listed as a quarantine pathogen under national emergency measures and the Forestry Commission has produced guidance, including help on how people can identify possible signs of infection.

Experts are urging people to report suspected cases of dieback in order to prevent the spread of the disease to the wider environment becoming established.

An app, Ashtag, has been launched to try to map the spread of the disease by allowing users to upload pictures and report possible sightings to a team which will pass any information to the Forestry Commission.

 

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  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 119.

    Devastation of our national ash population was probably unavoidable but it does appear that the forestry commission and government have been in denial. We should have been planning a response when Denmark had lost 25% of their ash trees. Washing dogs and children now will be as useful as cutting down railings for the war effort last century.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 116.

    Imports of ash trees have just been banned from MONDAY 29 OCTOBER 2012 yet Ash Die Back has been ravaging Continental Europe for quite some time. Why was the import of ash trees not stopped ages ago as soon the dangers were known?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 108.

    Lets face it most people treat the environment like everything else, its there for their pleasure and nothing else. I'm fed up of people treating nature as somehow separate, if these trees need to be saved then treat it like foot and mouth! Put a ban on specific areas.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 101.

    Why do we import ash trees from the continent in the first place? There's millions of native ones here and they are very easy to grow - native is better for wildlife too.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 59.

    Airborn spores are the problem, and yes they can get here by people bringing in on clothes, however we are so bad at stopping anything getting into Britain, we might as well just carry on regardless. This washing idea is light trying to stop a raging bull by breaking wind....bit futile!!!!!!!!!
    Australia is far better at controls but they have more distance to serve as a barrier.

 

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