South East Wales

Wentwood Forest: Larch disease felling in ancient woodland

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Media captionThe Woodland Trust said the felling of the trees was essential

The felling of diseased trees across an area the size of around 300 football pitches is taking place at Wales' largest ancient woodland.

Larch trees at Wentwood Forest, near Newport, have become infected with the fungal disease Phytophthora ramorum.

The infection can kill trees and has spread across the UK after being found in south west England four years ago.

The Woodland Trust, which owns most of the forest, said the felling of the trees was essential.

"This is the most serious and devastating action we've had to take on our estate," said the trust's head of woodland management, Andrew Sharkey.

"It again highlights both the need to tackle tree disease and the importance of restoring as much of our damaged ancient woodland to make it more resilient in decades to come."

Felling the infected conifers across an area of 200 hectares (500 acres) will leave the Woodland Trust with a £35,000 bill for replanting in the forest.

It also hits restoration work that has been taking place since the trust bought 352 hectares (869 acres) of Wentwood in 2006.

"Our aim was to prevent clear felling at Wentwood from happening. However, there is no alternative," explained Rory Francis, also from the trust.

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Media captionRory Francis, Woodland Trust: "We don't want to see this disease spreading any further"

"We are hoping that the action will slow down the spread of the infection or perhaps halt it."

Wentwood Forest is the remains of the ancient tree cover that stretched from the River Wye to the River Usk.

Conifers were first introduced to the wood in 1880, and much of the forest cleared to provide timber for trenches in World War I.

When it was replanted in the 1950s and 1960s, the once abundant broadleaf trees were replaced with imported conifers, ultimately damaging the forest floor and its natural formation.

The forest is spread out over 400 hectares (1,000 acres) and is home to 75 species of birds, including turtle doves, nightjars and spotted flycatchers, and is a habitat for dormice, otters, and pipistrelle bats.

It is also a home to wild bluebells, wood sorrel and wild daffodils.

Environmental impact

"Every time you have to clear-fell, the risk is that the shock of the sudden change in conditions stresses some of the native species and they could be lost," said Mr Francis.

"So in the short term, it will have a negative impact. We don't want to do it but it is a legal requirement."

Natural Resources Wales (NRW), which manages most of the remaining forest, said it had already invested £500,000 across Wales to halt the spread of the infection, and was setting aside another £2m to tackle the problem.

The disease has recently been discovered at Bwlch Nant-yr-Arian near Aberystwyth and at Cwmcarn Forest Drive in Caerphilly county borough.

The infection has also spread to parts of north Wales, at Coed Maentwrog near Porthmadog, and at Coed Cymerau near Blaenau Ffestiniog.

It has also affected larches across south west England, Northern Ireland and the west of Scotland.

"The felling in Wentwood Forest is very sad but this prompt action by the Woodland Trust is essential to try to slow the spread of this devastating disease," said John Browne, from NRW.

"Our ultimate aim is to make our forests more resilient to pests and diseases and we are heartened that the Woodland Trust is to seize this opportunity to undertake change of structure and species within Wentwood Forest by planting native broadleaves."

The felled larch trees will be replaced with a mix of oak and cherry trees, and other broadleaf native trees.

"In some ways it will actually accelerate the work to plant native trees, but it is not in the circumstances we would have preferred," added the trust's Mr Francis.

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