Ash dieback: 'Wash after visiting woods' plea

An ash sapling There are fears that wind spores could carry the disease out of East Anglia

The environment secretary has urged the public to wash their dogs and boots and even their children after visiting wooded areas, to help stop the spread of a fungus which is killing ash trees.

Owen Paterson spoke after the government's emergency committee Cobra met to discuss the ash dieback menace.

Some 100,000 trees have been destroyed in the UK, where East Anglia has been particularly badly affected.

The infection has affected some 90% of ash trees in Denmark.

Ministers are concerned that the fungus could be present on fallen leaves and could be transferred via leaf mould.

Mr Paterson told the BBC: "Everyone should be responsible and if they do visit a wood just make sure they wash their boots, wash their dog, whatever's been running around the leaves, wash their child, to make sure they don't transfer to the next wood."

About 2,500 10sq km sites across the UK are being surveyed to establish how far the disease has spread, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Amid criticism from Labour, Mr Paterson denied the government had been slow to act when the infection was first discovered.

He said: "This disease was only established here on 7 March. During the summer, trees are not planted so a programme of inspection has gone on during which 100,000 trees have been destroyed.

"But as I have also made clear, this disease as we discovered recently has possibly blown in.

Symptoms of Chalara dieback

  • Diseased saplings typically display dead tops and side shoots.
  • Lesions often found at base of dead side shoots.
  • Lesions on branch or stem can cause wilting of foliage above.
  • Disease affects mature trees by killing off new growth.

"It's on the basis of that information that we're now working together right across government at the highest level, using expertise in every department, to bear down on the disease," he said.

Ash dieback, also known as Chalara dieback, is caused by the fungus Chalara Fraxinea.

The disease was first discovered in the UK in February in a consignment of trees imported from the Netherlands by a nursery in Buckinghamshire.

The Forestry Commission has said it has since been found at sites across England and Scotland, including Leicester, South Yorkshire, County Durham and in Knockmountain Woods near Glasgow.

The trees at all the locations above had been grown from young ash saplings obtained from nurseries within the past five years.

In October, scientists confirmed a spate of cases in Norfolk and Suffolk in trees not planted recently, which appear to form a wider infection zone.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke on how to spot an infected ash tree

Mobile app

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh has accused the government of "dithering" over the issue and has expressed concerns over cutbacks to the Forestry Commission's budget.

But environment minister David Heath denied there had been any cut back in resources "applied to plant health and tree health in this country".

Visible symptoms of ash dieback include leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees and it can lead to tree death.

The disease has been listed as a quarantine pathogen under national emergency measures and the Forestry Commission has produced guidance, including help on how people can identify possible signs of infection.

Experts are urging people to report suspected cases of dieback in order to prevent the spread of the disease to the wider environment becoming established.

An app, Ashtag, has been launched to try to map the spread of the disease by allowing users to upload pictures and report possible sightings to a team which will pass any information to the Forestry Commission.


More on This Story

Ash dieback outbreak

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  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Reality is, that Ash will have to be reduced to ash, as that will be the only realistic way of trying to combat this disease. Not nice, but washing your children ,dog ,boots - please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Why does the government think it has to issue such drivel?

    I don't understand why we were importing Ash salpings in the first place if we have millions of the trees here why don't we grow our own or is that another industry we have decided to let go to another country?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    @3 Cowgazer is simply pointing out that quarantine standards and the EU changed as we joined. It is not racist at all, unless you are over sensitive and a pc freak.
    Frankly washing boots wont stop the wind or migratory birds, even wood from elsewhere carried on the tides from overseas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I live in a woodland area, on the opposite side of the country from the die back outbreak, and walk my dog in woodland five minutes from my home every day. It would be crazy for me to come home and carefully wash boots and dog every day. The government, as usual, are completely out of touch with normal rural life. We need sensible guidelines, not some panic ridden pronouncement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Why didn't they(the Government) act earlier when conservation groups were saying action was needed over the last two years to prevent this disease getting a foot hold in the UK!! Just another example of lack of border controls to anything arriving in this country. Who would have thought we were an island!

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    People dieback.

    Perhaps Cobra might like to consider the damage it's doing to the Health of the Nation when many people die* very soon after being declared 'fit for work' by Atos through the Work Capability Assessment?

    *Natural & self adminstered causes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Perhaps we should also consider an export ban. Other countries may need protecting from their incompetent governments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Airborne disease, spread by the wind, so wash your boots.

    Hopefully these aren't the same people in charge of preventing (human) pandemics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Just try washing a cobra.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    it's wash a tree week! a bit like the quiet bat people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    This goverment being laughably incompetent again. The issuers of this sage 'advice' should be sacked immediately and replaced with something with more than once brain cell between them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Sadly the only real preventative measure is to kill all the ash trees now before the fungus becomes endemic.

    Maybe in 20 years or so we can start to replant ... but fungus spores last for years and are hard to kill.

    I suspect that we'll pretend we can control it and waste millions in the process only to discover that there's nothing we can do.

    By that time the fungus will be everywhere!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Do we wash the badgers, foxes,birds,deer etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    No worrys about birds & squirrels & the wind then spreading fungi spores

    Just wash your dog & kids etc & that will help, if ever there was a gormless prize!!!!

    The infection has killed some 90% of ash trees in Denmark.

    So what about rest of world/Europe???
    Or is such basic information too complez & wasted on BBC viewers/readers

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    @3 Cowgazer

    if you are a gardener then instead of being disdainful about this advice (and slightly racist about the EU -do you seriously think we would stop importing European objects just because we weren't a member?) you should understand the devastation fungi can wreak on trees and doing what you can to prevent it's spread, however small your part.

    Do i need to mention Dutch Elm Disease?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Frankly this is a hopeless, futile attempt more akin to King Canute!!!!!!!!
    Like avian flu and so many similar virus risks, this is likely carried on the wind, by birds and almost impossible to stop. If it can spread and conditions are righht it will....... scrubbing the dog, your boots or car tyres and bicycles is all a bit of a well intentioned knee jerk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    What a joke this government (and the previous one) is!! They ignore all the warnings about this disease for years, allowing saplings from the continent into the country, and then when its too late and the disease is out in the UK they go into full panic mode - complete with laughable boot cleaning 'advice'. Furthermore, to try and weasel their way off the hook they claim it got here on the wind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I should wash but we didn't need to do anything about the disease during the summer because it is carried on the wind? Does that make sense?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Do we have too wash badgers or kill them?Birds and all other mammals and insects?Its a TAD late now!!!
    Mr Patterson your Patter is bad...

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I don't this sounds very practical, where I take my dog walking is down a disused railway line that leads to the countryside and many that use it also can't be bothered to clean up the dog mess, so I don't think they're gonna wash themselves and their dogs after each walk. And besides that, what about all the agricultural and forestry workers, moving about from one place to another. Crazy idea.


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