The disease was discovered in June in young ash trees recently planted at a Leicestershire car park. This followed an interception in February by the Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera) of diseased ash plants in a shipment from a supplier in the Netherlands to a nursery in Buckinghamshire. The ash plants which remained in the Buckinghamshire nursery have been destroyed, and Fera has so far traced almost all of the plants from the shipment which had already been sold on to retail buyers, and ordered their destruction. The origins of the disease in Leicestershire are still being investigated.
Forestry Commission plant health science head Dr John Morgan said: "This is a very worrying development. C. fraxinea is an aggressive pathogen which has the potential to inflict considerable damage on Britain’s ash trees. Ash is a much-loved native species which is important for its timber, woodfuel, wildlife, biodiversity and landscape benefits, and it is one of our most numerous tree species.
"We have agreed with Fera to adopt a precautionary approach and to inspect ash plants in nurseries and destroy any material with this disease in order to prevent it from spreading into the natural environment. Because we now know that C. fraxinea is present in the nursery trade we expect there will be more interceptions in the near future.
"We are urging anyone who has received ash trees in the past five years to check their trees’ health and to report any suspicious symptoms to us without delay. This applies principally to professionals working in the nursery and tree sectors, but it is also relevant to anyone who looks after land with ash trees on it."
The disease mostly affects common ash (Fraxinus excelsior), including its ‘Pendula’ ornamental variety, but Fraxinus angustifolia can also be infected. Deaths in continental Europe have been particularly common in very young trees, known as saplings.
Suspected cases can be reported to the Forestry Commission or the Food & Environment Research Agency at:
- Forest Research Tree Health Diagnostic and Advisory Service;
tel: 01420 23000; e-mail: email@example.com;
- Forestry Commission Plant Health Service;
tel: 0131 314 6414; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Fera Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate;
tel: 01904 465625; e-mail: email@example.com.
The Forestry Commission’s Forest Research agency is preparing a risk assessment which will provide the necessary evidence to inform future action against this disease.C. fraxinea is not a "regulated" plant disease in European Union plant health law, which means that the trade in ash plants between Member States is not subject to inspection. Member States may, however, make a case for legislation to control ash imports from areas where the disease is known to be present. In order to do this a Member State must demonstrate that it is still free of it. The pest risk assessment which Forest Research is drafting is the first step towards getting such a case for national legislation.