A DEADLY fungus affecting ash trees could potentially have a ‘devastating impact’ on Cheshire, say nature experts.
This week the Government revealed plans to impose a ban on the import of ash trees into the UK which will help combat the spread of the fatal chalara fraxinea disease, which has been found in woodland in East Anglia.
If the fungus, dubbed ‘ash dieback’, heads north, it could pose a threat to what is already one of the least wooded counties in the UK.
With 80 million ash trees currently at risk across the country, the Government has now taken action by banning imported ash with immediate effect in a bid to tackle the spread.
But Cheshire Wildlife Trust has this week warned that the consequences of ash dieback could be ‘devastating’.
Jacki Hulse, the trust’s head of estates and land management, said: “Most of our beautiful and stunning woodland clough nature reserves in Cheshire are dominated by ash trees and losing them would ultimately change those woodlands forever, possibly irrecoverably, as non-native species such as sycamore may then take over.
“It seems that with every turning leaf this autumn our countryside and wildlife is facing a new battle, but we hope with swift action from the Government and the public, this is one challenge we can overcome,” she added.
Cheshire has just 6.4% of woodland cover compared to the UK average of about 10%, primarily in areas like Delamere Forest.
Bryan Cole, of Cheshire Tree Services, who has been a tree surgeon for 30 years, said the disease could end up being a very real threat to Cheshire.
“As yet I’ve not seen any dieback on ash trees or any signs of the disease up here but if it was to spread, I’ve seen the effects of the Dutch elm disease years ago and we still occasionally come across that even now,” he said.
“We have to just hope it stays in East Anglia.
“There could be thousands of trees felled and we don’t have a huge amount of woodland already.
“Luckily ash isn’t the only tree in most woodland but you do tend to damage other trees when you fell them.”
He added: “There could be at least one benefit to the felling though, as ash is the best burning wood possible so, with fuel prices rising, that could be at least one positive thing out of it.”
A local woman who grows ash trees regularly, and did not wish to be named, said she wasn’t too concerned the disease would spread to Cheshire.
“The main thing is that it didn’t start here, it came from the continent,” she said.
“I’m naturally concerned but we just have to hope and pray that the disease is contained down south and doesn’t reach us.
“Ash isn’t really a garden tree and I wouldn’t say it was the most popular woodland tree either, so I’m thinking positively that we’ll steer clear.”
Paul Vickers, field manager for the North West and West Midlands Forestry Commission, said he was unable to say any more than: “We are currently looking at sites and at the moment are trying to establish whether or not this disease has spread to the Cheshire area.”
At time of press, the legislation to restrict the movement of ash trees and ash timber is yet to be published by the Forestry Commission, but a question-and-answer page giving a fair idea of its content is available at: www.forestry.gov.uk/website/forestry.nsf/byunique/infd-8yrdy7