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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    "the government" rely on scientists to advise them on such matters so it is a bit rich to put this at the feet of politicians, unless they have ignored the advice of their scientists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Why aren't they cutting and burning the infected trees NOW? Instead of waiting months for it to spread wider over the country?

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    U found one fault,lol.
    Why dont u contribute rather than find faults,thought not NYT NYT xx.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

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

    Nonsense.I've taken a hiking tent to NZ many times.Biosecurity give it a good clean and then give it back to you to use.Get your facts right!

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    US has been working for some time to find surviving elm trees that are naturally resistant to Dutch Elm Disease - and seeing if offspring from those trees are also resistant - don't know how its going lately but it seems a better path to breed for resistance than trying to genetically modify a tree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Defra were warned about this in 2009 by the Hortcultural Trading Association who strongly proposed a ban! Its been in the saturday papers time and time again for about a year and now they are coming round to doing something!! Unbelievable incompetence on behalf of Defra.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Wash kids, dogs and boots after visiting a wood in case you spread this ash disease! What happens if it's a coniferous wood? And the dog probably won't be very happy, especially if he's found something nice to roll in!

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Worcester Massachusetts lost many trees to Asian Long Horn beetles imported from China (in Wood Pallets) - Because wood chippers did not grind up the beetles the chips had to be burned. Now it is advised that you do not buy firewood from that area to keep the bug contained. Washing may prevent transfer of the fungus by those who visit multiple wooded areas (don't go on the same day).

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    32 Minutes ago
    Bill - Best to let nature do that. Survival of the fittest, etc., some will survive through genetic variation that makes them resistant, and their progeny will also be resistant. Human meddling will have no useful effect.

    What an ill educated comment..."human meddling" has caused the crisis, we should adopt all measures possible to stop the spread!

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Invest in a wood-burning stove. This'll make sure there's plenty of fuel, even when the Russians turn our gas off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Devastation of our national ash population was probably unavoidable but it does appear that the forestry commission and government have been in denial. We should have been planning a response when Denmark had lost 25% of their ash trees. Washing dogs and children now will be as useful as cutting down railings for the war effort last century.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    We need to preserve our trees, as when energy prices become unaffordable we'll be chuffing well burning them to keep warm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Bill - Best to let nature do that. Survival of the fittest, etc., some will survive through genetic variation that makes them resistant, and their progeny will also be resistant. Human meddling will have no useful effect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Imports of ash trees have just been banned from MONDAY 29 OCTOBER 2012 yet Ash Die Back has been ravaging Continental Europe for quite some time. Why was the import of ash trees not stopped ages ago as soon the dangers were known?

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Mr Paterson said: "This disease was only established here on 7 March. During the summer, trees are not planted...", i.e.,: 8mths of inaction (despite warning from Danish government); ignorance re tree planting (as a matter of fact trees do get planted in summer). The lack of action here is unforgiveable negligence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    I've never heard such nonsense as washing boots, children and just isn't going to happen. When you go on a ramble you often go from wood to wood and tree to tree. How could you wash each time you pass a tree with fallen leaves? This is being said to be seen to be doing something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    It's not their fault it's here.
    I think you'll find it's the pathetic non response to dealing with the issue.
    A high powered emergency meeting that makes Waldorf and Statler look dynamic.
    If it's blown across the North sea I hardly think washing Fido's paws will be the answer. Don't defend incompetence because of your political leanings. I'm sure nasty old Labour would be be the same!

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    @104. widespreadfrost.
    And it's spreading here in and around Torbay! Most dog owners aren't the most considerate people it would seem. Totally unrealistic expecting the dogs to be washed to try and stop this spreading, sadly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Now take a bash at the Fungus on Ash me mother used to rake!
    Hmmm! Now I could just eat some bangers & mash!
    For those that have no clue as to what I am driveling on about just google bangers & mash (the song as well)!
    It wood be best to stay out of ash areas altogather!

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    OK you genetic modification whizzkids. Can you gene splice an Ash tree which is resistant to fungal infection, or will we have to wait for an old chap in his potting shed to realise that one particular specimen isn't affected, and make a lot of cuttings. Electron microscope V mother nature, the race is on.


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