Sudden Oak Death disease sees trees felled across West

Trees being felled on the Quantock Hills
Image caption About 10,000 larch trees are being felled on the Quantock Hills

Thousands of infected larch trees in Somerset are being felled in a bid to halt a deadly disease across the West.

The disease, commonly known as Sudden Oak Death, is spreading fast and sawmill owners are calling it the "foot and mouth" of trees.

On the Quantock Hills, 10,000 larch trees are being felled on National Trust woodland. Another 50,000 will be cut down on a plantation nearby.

About 2,000 hectares (200 million sq m) have been affected in the south west.

The airborne disease is highly contagious, and trees in Cornwall, Devon and south Wales have already been felled.

It has also spread to parts of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

So far there is no known cure.

Mark Courtiur, National Trust forestry manager said: "By felling them now we're hoping to prevent the spread of the spores later on in the year."

The disease came to this country from America where mainly oak trees were affected.

Over here it has jumped species to larch trees - plants such as rhododendrons have also been infected - and no-one is sure where it will travel next.

Alison Field, regional director for the Forestry Commission in the south west, said: "We're worried because this is one disease, will there be another?

"And what might we expect with the changing climate, the warmth of the summers, the cold winters, the wetter summers of the future?"

'Dog food'

The sudden felling of so many trees has put enormous pressure on saw mills.

Infected larch is being chipped to end up as fuel for power stations.

One grower said it was like "sending prime rump for dog food".

Philip Chambers, owner of Milverton Sawmill, said: "Basically this is foot and mouth for larch. There could be a complete cull of all the larch in the south west."

Ms Field said they should know for certain by the spring whether these measures have stopped the disease in its tracks.

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