Sweet chestnut blight confirmed in London area

Sweet chestnut blight, a disease that affects sweet chestnut trees, has been found in South East London, the UK Government's Chief Plant Health Officer has confirmed.

Image: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Image: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The disease, caused by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, causes foliage to wilt and die and cankers to develop on the tree surface, which may eventually kill the tree. It is only known to seriously affect sweet chestnut (Castanea) species.

Action is now being taken to identify and control the disease in line with the Government’s plant disease contingency plans, with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and Forestry Commission assessing sweet chestnut trees in the area.

Forestry Commission England’s tree health team leader Andy Hall said: "We are working in collaboration with the local council and London tree officers with the vital support of the forestry industry to identify and tackle the disease.

"Anyone who has sweet chestnut trees in their garden or on their land, or who works with the trees, should check them for symptoms such as wilting leaves, diseased orange bark and cankers across the surface of the tree, and report any suspected sightings via the Forestry Commission’s Tree Alert tool."

The UK has about 12,000 hectares of woodland where sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) is the dominant tree species, mostly in southern England.

Sweet chestnut blight was first identified in the UK in 2011 on young plants in a southern England orchard. Protections were strengthened in response, including a requirement that imported plants must originate from pest-free areas.

Prohibitions on moving sweet chestnut material were introduced in parts of southwest England following outbreaks earlier this year.

Hall added: "Good biosecurity is vital to reducing disease spread. Anyone visiting or working in woodland should take care not to remove twigs, leaves and branches to avoid spreading the pest further. They should also clean their footwear, tools and machinery before moving locations."

The fungus attacks the bark, cambium and wood of chestnut trees, entering through bark fissures, wounds and grafts. Rough, sunken cankers are typically formed as the bark dies, followed by stem girdling and bark splitting. There can be multiple cankers on a single tree and epicormic shoots usually develop below the cankers.

Girdling caused by the cankers also leads to wilting and browning of leaves, which remain hanging on the tree.

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