Disease puts Christmas trees in danger

ONE of the most familiar trees in Suffolk's man-made forests is today set to be phased out because of a disease in its leaves.But tree experts dismissed fears that the arrival of red band needle blight in Corsican pine trees across the country could cause a Christmas tree crisis later in the year.

ONE of the most familiar trees in Suffolk's man-made forests is today set to be phased out because of a disease in its leaves.

But tree experts dismissed fears that the arrival of red band needle blight in Corsican pine trees across the country could cause a Christmas tree crisis later in the year.

Corsican pines are not native to Britain but were introduced to new areas of forest because they grow fast and do not need too much attention.

However the blight is caused by a fungus, and this year's wet summer has been ideal for it to thrive. A spokesman for the Forestry Commission said it had taken the decision not to plant any further Corsican pines for at least five years while the impact of the blight was assessed.

It recently announced that non-native conifers would be replaced by native broadleaf trees in forestry in the east of Suffolk, from Dunwich to Rendlesham, as they are harvested over the next few years.

Stephen Smith, the commission's assistant operations manager for England, said: “Unfortunately, it appears that red band needle blight could be here to stay.

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“The worst affected area is the East of England, where more than 70per cent of Corsican pine trees are thought to be infected.

“The disease was also found on a number of other pine species, including lodgepole pine. Stopping planting of Corsican pine is a big decision for us, especially in the south and east of England, because our pine forests are an important public resource and provide valuable timber for industry.

“It is particularly unfortunate that the disease has arrived now, because climate change models from Forest Research had indicated that Corsican pine is a species ideally suited to thrive over the coming decades, with an expanded range across Britain.”

But while the disease is causing a problem for the forestry industry, it should not have any impact on Christmas trees.

A spokesman for the British Christmas Tree Growers' Association said 95pc of the trees sold in this country were not pine, and the disease only affected pines.

Have you had any trees affected by this disease? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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