Dry weather 'may cause Dutch elm disease in Sussex'

Sussex conservationists say the unusually warm and dry spring weather has increased the risk of Dutch elm disease.

The tree disease, which is one of the most serious in the world, is caused by a fungus spread by beetles.

The only way to control it is to cut down and burn infected trees.

There are about 50,000 mature English elms, thought to be the UK's largest collection of the trees, between Eastbourne and Shoreham.

'Out of control'

Elm protection volunteer Graham Dawson said he had seen an increase in the number of infected trees.

"Three weeks ago, my first visit this year, there was 38 that I reported but that had increased a week ago to 71. So it is rapidly increasing." said Mr Dawson.

He added that the number of infected trees this year was greater than in previous years.

East Sussex County Council's Dutch elm disease officer, Anthony Becvar, said: "It appears on the surface to have been fairly bad, I believe that we should be able to get on top of it."

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph journalist Mark Seddon, who has previously investigated English elms in East Sussex, claimed "a combination of reduced budgets, ludicrous red tape and new charges for landowners has led to the disease getting out of control".

Rupert Clubb, Director of the Environment at East Sussex County Council said he was surprised by Mr Seddon's claims.

He added: "We are working hard, as has always been the case, to manage Dutch elm disease.

No chemical methods

"If a resident asks us to cut down a tree that's got Dutch elm, we pay half and they pay half and that's always been the case."

The first sign of Dutch elm disease is wilting, particularly around the top, of a tree. The Dutch elm disease fungus blocks the movement of water around the tree which eventually kills it.

According to Forestry Commission research, there are no chemical or biological methods for controlling Dutch Elm disease. The only way to curb it is to fell and destroy infected trees.

"Dutch elm disease tends to go for mature trees, the ones you see in places like Seaford and Eastbourne, but it doesn't wipe out the species.

"The younger trees still come through. We will still have elms here in the next decade," said Mr Clubb.

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