National Trust warns of Phytophthora epidemic

The National Trust and sister organisation the National Trust for Scotland are warning their respective governments that plant diseases Phytophthora ramorum and Phytophthora kernoviae could be in every garden in the UK within 20 years without effective control.

The organisations have sent a joint letter to environment ministers in London and Edinburgh asking for increased control and funds into research of the pathogens, commonly known as sudden oak death.

Defra, the Forestry Commission and the Welsh Assembly Government consulted this summer on the future management of the diseases and a decision is expected this month.

Phytophthora kernoviae was found for the first time this year on bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) in Cornwall and Scotland. Fifteen National Trust gardens and four National Trust for Scotland gardens have seen outbreaks of both diseases, with historic Rhododendron collections being devastated, particularly in Cornwall.

NT lead adviser on Phytophthora Ian Wright said: "The fact that Phytophthora kernoviae has made the jump to heathland is deeply worrying.  It has been estimated that within 20 years this plant disease could be in every garden in the UK and have a severe impact on our lowland and upland heath."  

The joint letter asks that the UK and Scottish governments provide additional funding and support to help understand disease and control its spread.

National Trust for Scotland head of gardens and designed landscapes Jan Haenraets said: "Without concrete action the spread of these diseases poses a real threat to our native plants and species in our gardens, woodlands and heathland.  This would have a serious knock-on effect for the environment and local economies."

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