Fungus may wipe out one in three of Plymouth's trees
NEARLY a third of Plymouth's trees could be at risk if a catastrophic fungal disease takes hold, experts have warned.
The Government has been accused of acting too slowly to protect British trees from a killer fungus that is sweeping Europe.
In Denmark, the disease has already killed 90 per cent of the country's ash trees – and now it has spread to the UK.
A ban on ash imports and tight restrictions on ash movements within Britain will begin on Monday, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said yesterday.
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The ban follows the discovery of the fungal disease Chalara fraxinea in ash trees in the countryside in Norfolk.
Andrew Young, Plymouth Tree Partnership co-ordinator, said ash trees were very common across Plymouth and probably reflected the national proportion of about 30 per cent of all woodland.
"This is on the scale of Dutch elm disease," he warned.
"Alma Road, from the Britannia Inn to Pennycomequick, is lined with ash trees. Imagine how it would look without them.
"There are ash trees in pretty well every city park, including Central Park, and we recently planted a line in Patna Place.
"This disease is a concern. It comes back to plant hygiene and making sure we have strict import controls."
In Parliament yesterday Labour's Dame Joan Ruddock criticised the timing of the Government's response.
She said Mr Paterson would "not be forgiven for any delay".
She said the Secretary of State should have banned the import of ash seedlings the minute the disease was actually found in nurseries in this country.
"He will not be forgiven for any delay by the people of this country who so value the ash trees.
"Will he ensure that the Forestry Commission has all the resources it needs to be able to confront this terrible threat?"
Mr Paterson denied that he had been slow to act and said: "I think she is being pretty unfair. "The minute we heard about this we launched a consultation."
Ash dieback had previously been identified in nurseries and recently-planted sites including a car park, a college campus and a new woodland.
But it has now been found in the wider environment at sites in East Anglia, increasing fears it could wreak the same kind of damage as Dutch elm disease did in the 1970s.
The Chalara fraxinea fungus, which causes leaf loss and crown dieback and can lead to tree death, has wiped out 90 per cent of ash trees in Denmark in seven years and is becoming widespread throughout central Europe.
Keith Rossiter Page 12