Chalara found in Milton Keynes

Deadly tree disease reported in the town for the first time.

Linford Wood, where some of the first signs of Chalara were spotted. Image: Milton Keynes Parks Trust
Linford Wood, where some of the first signs of Chalara were spotted. Image: Milton Keynes Parks Trust

Ash dieback has been found in Milton Keynes for the first time this month, the trust which looks after 41 of the town’s parks and green spaces has confirmed.

Symptoms of the potentially fatal fungal disease were seen in the early autumn on young sapling ash in Linford Wood, and on street trees lining two roads.

The Forestry Commission has confirmed that the blight is indeed Chalara Fraxinea.

The Parks Trust is now monitoring the rest of its 2,023 hectares of green space for further signs of the disease and will, in collaboration with Milton Keynes Council, remove the infected trees in order to limit the spread of the disease.

In a statement the trust said it was highly likely the disease has reach other parts of Milton Keynes and expects to find more infected trees during next year’s growing season.

Chalara was initially reported in Buckinghamshire in 2012, the first time it had appeared in the UK. The county is categorised as being at high risk for the disease due to the amount of ash found in the area. In The Parks Trust’s semi-natural woodlands, ash trees take up about 65% of the upper canopies. Chalara causes leaf loss, crown dieback and bark lesions in affected trees. Once a tree is infected the disease is usually fatal, although complete death in a mature tree can take some years.

Landscape and operations director for The Parks Trust Rob Riekie said: "While the confirmation that Chalara has spread to our trees is unfortunate, it is not a surprise and we have been preparing for the arrival of this disease to Milton Keynes for the last few years. We have already considered and initiated a serious of actions which we believe will counter and help reduce the effects of the disease."

This has included favouring the retention of other species over ash during annual thinning works, while leaving a diversity of species in worked areas and collecting oak acorns over the last two autumns, with seedlings then propagated. The first batch of oak trees are now due be planted out in the woodlands in winter 2017/18, which will help to fill the gap left by any ash trees that die and need to be removed.

However, even if an ash tree does catch the disease and it proves fatal, this does not necessarily mean it will be removed as dying trees of size offer increased habitat value to invertebrates, including beetles. The Parks Trust will need to look at this on a case by case means, as it also needs to consider the health and safety of the park users and its neighbours.

Riekie added: "It has always been our aim to maintain a diverse tree plantation across our plantations and we will continue this. Avoiding mono-cultures will not only aid us against the effect of Chalara, but other tree diseases as well.

"The measures we have taken, and our ongoing communication with the Forestry Commission and Defra, will ensure Milton Keynes’ forests and green spaces continue to feature beautiful trees for decades to come."

In addition to parkland, The Parks Trust takes care of the landscape along the main grid roads which constitutes 80 miles of trees, shrubs and flowers.


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