SUFFOLK has nearly a quarter of the UK’s confirmed cases of ash dieback - with one expert claiming the county is on the frontline of the disease’s onslaught.

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Forty-two cases of the deadly Chalara dieback have now been identified in woodlands and nurseries across Suffolk.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust chief executive Julian Roughton - who revealed four out of six of the organisation’s ancient woodland sites now have confirmed cases of dieback - said the large-scale death of ash could have cultural as well as environmental implications.

Speaking at Bradfield Woods near Bury St Edmunds, which is awaiting results after more samples of ash were sent away to the Forestry Commission’s plant health team for examination, Mr Roughton said he was particularly concerned about the fate of ancient trees and “coppice stools” that have been managed by humans since medieval times.

He said: “Suffolk seems to be at the frontline of the Chalara dieback and we have been having samples taken from all of our reserves and from our six ancient woodlands.

“Four have now come back with confirmed presence of Chalara and at one of the sites we are seeing dieback of natural regeneration,” he added. “The concern is that Chalara does particularly affect young regrowth and therefore coppice maybe more vulnerable to it.”

Coppicing in some Suffolk sites, such as Bradfield Woods, dates back to 1252 and is viewed as a unique connection with with past cultures.

Mr Roughton said: “It is the way this wood has been managed for hundreds and hundreds of years. One of the things that is so amazing is the direct link the trees provide with the medieval management of this wood.

“It is a physical contact with that world. These are the trees that were around then, which is amazing.”

Mr Roughton said if coppicing is found to make trees more vulnerable to disease there would be “enormous implications” for how the trust manages their woodlands.

He was speaking yesterday as renowned woodland specialist Professor Oliver Rackham visited Suffolk to look for evidence of the toxic fungus.

He said: “We need to wait and find out. There seems to be very little hard information on this even from continental countries where the disease has been known for many years. I am not going to lose my head about this until stronger evidence emerges.”

Professor Rackham said he had not seen any evidence of Chalara fraxinea fungus in Bradfield Woods.

Bull’s Wood in Cockfield, Arger Fen near Assington, Bonny Wood, near Needham Market, Comb’s Wood, near Stowmarket, all have confirmed cases of the disease.

Dozens more cases are scattered throughout the county.

According to the Forestry Commission, there are 184 confirmed infections in the UK - 114 in established woodland, 55 in recently planted sites and 15 in nursery sites.

All of Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s woods remain open.

A spokesman for the Foresty Commision advised visitors to woods to remove mud and leaf litter from their shoes before leaving.

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