Ban aims to halt spread of deadly tree disease

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MINISTERS yesterday confirmed a ban on importing ash trees into the UK as part of measures to halt the spread of a deadly disease which has already been detected in Yorkshire.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson also announced movement restrictions on trees from infected areas to try to protect native trees from a “devastating” fungal disease which has spread rapidly across Europe since the early 1990s.

It has emerged that around 80 young trees had to be destroyed after signs of the disease were found on a college campus in South Yorkshire in July. The same month the infection, which kills trees by destroying their leaves in a process known as ash dieback, was found in a batch of around 20 trees at a nursery in West Yorkshire.

There have been no cases found yet in the wild in Yorkshire.

The ban on ash plants, trees and seeds being brought into the UK follows the discovery of the disease in woodland in East Anglia. There are now 10 confirmed cases in woodland in East Anglia, with others still under suspicion and a small number in Kent, also under suspicion.

The discoveries have increased fears that one of the country’s most common native trees faces the same fate as the elm, which was devastated by Dutch elm disease in the 1970s. Ash die-back has wiped out 90 per cent of ash trees in Denmark.

Sue Holden, chief executive of the Woodland Trust, said she was pleased the Government had finally acted, but added: “With more than 15 separate pests and diseases listed on the Forestry Commission website as already present, it is crucial that the wider issue is tackled. Today it’s ash but tomorrow yet another of our precious native trees could be at risk.”

A spokesman for the Forestry Commission said the findings in East Anglia suggested spores had been blown over from the continent by the wind, or brought by birds. So far there had been “very few” reports of sick trees. He said: “What we don’t know is whether the fungus has just arrived and might be still waiting to infect trees. It is something we are going to have to keep an eye on for a long time.”

Defra said officials would be on high alert, looking for signs of the fungus and making sure infected trees are destroyed.