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

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    typical tory condesendance on the plebs that they think they need to tell you to waswh your kids before you go to the next woods do they really think the plebs go unwashed for months on end?

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Looks like gross negligence was committed by D.2.(d) section of MI5, which, according to the book The Sixth Column, by Peter Fleming, is (or was) responsible for safeguarding of the balance of nature in the United Kingdom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    It is spread by wind and direct contact.

    Why is washing not of any help?

    Would you not wash your hands after touching a contagious person in hospital?
    By washing yours boots, your dog (who has just nosed around the forest floor), and your kids that picked up sticks you are helping to prevent the spread a little.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Can someone please explain why on earth we import native saplings of any kind and not be supporting the nurseries in this Country. Could even get horticultural students to grow them as a real time project. All these things are just plain common sense but obviously we don't do common sense in this Country anymore

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    It seems highly unlikely that intensive washing will stem the tide of the spread of this fungus given that there are these things called birds, insects and mammals living in the woods that will do the job.
    Even cars passing tree's on the roadside will have the same effect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Dithering caused the withering!
    DEFRA plant health rules have always been too lax.....they allowed Phytopthora to be imported time and time again....they keep the outbreaks secret.....all to prevent a financial impact on the importers commercial interests! Their job was to protect the environment and they let it down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Is this story sponsored by ariel?

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    As this advice is coming from COBRA which represents the highest level of strategic thinking in any National crisis we need to take it seriously, so scrub those dogs, kids, squirrels and anything else ominous that appears from the woodland - and don't spare the mother-in-law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.


    When going to NZ you cant take your tent with you.You have to buy one when your there...Quite rightly too...

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Couldn't we just shoot them to put them out of their misery?

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Airborn spores are the problem, and yes they can get here by people bringing in on clothes, however we are so bad at stopping anything getting into Britain, we might as well just carry on regardless. This washing idea is light trying to stop a raging bull by breaking wind....bit futile!!!!!!!!!
    Australia is far better at controls but they have more distance to serve as a barrier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    "Can the scientists not look at what the other trees do to defend themselves, and perhaps produce a vaccine for the Ash tree."

    The agri scientists belive they have a fungicide that will deal with the fungus, unfortunatly it is not approved for use on ashes and the government can't legally approve it, that has to be done by the EU as for all pesticides now and it takes years and costs £'s.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    This problem would possibly not have arrived here if we had the kind of customs regulations that exist in other countries like Australia, New Zealand and even the US state of Hawaii.

    You try bringing in to those countries meat, plant matter or mud covered boots and you'll be told you cannot, because of pest and disease controls having an economic impact which the UK government is blind to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    The situation is beyond this ( and every other) governments control. If it did come over the sea, there is nothing anyone could have done.

    All we puny humans can do is simply leave it to nature and let evolution find a natural solution. If there is none, all we can do is STOP importing foreign plants, and cease the Victorian way of gardening.

    Probably too late anyway! Stupid humans.

  • Comment number 55.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Bad joke this,utter incompetence!
    Mr Patterson,your funguy.
    Sorry,i couldnt resist...

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    just waiting for the usual U turn...............

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    It's clear that the Government knew this problem was coming a long time ago and as usual did nothing to prepare. Landowners are now being told to cut down trees and destroy them at their own cost, doubt all will adhere to that. This is a disaster which sadly can no longer be prevented and now Ministers issue advice which suggests the public will end up getting the blame for spreading the disease.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I'm surprised they aren't trying to blame it on quiet bat people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Wow don't you feel safe knowing that the top emergency committee COBRA meet and come up with wash your dogs feet.
    Makes you wonder how they deal with the terrorist threats, erm wear clean underwear perhaps.
    Get a decisive grip on this disease before it decimates our woodland.


Page 4 of 7


More Science & Environment stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.