New coalition must free up more cash to save "iconic oaks", say experts

The new Government must pump more money into research to fight a deadly disease, say experts, who are asking "could Britain lose the iconic oak?".

The sector has united in its chorus of concern about the impact of Acute Oak Decline (AOD), which could change forever Britain's landscape, they warned recently.

Arborists and conservationists as well as pathologists and senior plant health officials from Forest Research, spoke of their alarm at a recent conference.

Delegates heard how the bacterial infection that caused AOD affected both species of native oaks, pedunculate and sessile oaks.

The tree shows signs of bleeding on its stems and areas of dead bark appear, followed by rapid die back and death, often within a three to five year period.

"This disease has the potential to change our landscape dramatically," said a representative. "AOD has the capacity to be a major threat to the UK's oak woods, both ancient and secondary, and could change our landscape even more than Dutch Elm Disease. The impact of the loss of an iconic tree both from our countryside and from towns would be catastrophic.

"A new incoming government must urgently give Forest Research through Defra the resources it needs to undertake this work. Excellent research into acute oak decline is already taking place.

"In the meantime, forest owners and managers are concerned that there is little understanding of how the disease spreads and therefore of how best to control it.

"There are now 55 cases of the disease confirmed at sites in the east of England, southern England and the Midlands, with a steadily growing number of suspect sites still to be confirmed."

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