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Sudbury: Deadly ash dieback disease confirmed

09:18 13 November 2012

35 acres of saplings infected at Arger Fen reserve.

35 acres of saplings infected at Arger Fen reserve.

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35 acres of saplings infected at reserve

Ash saplings at a Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve near Sudbury are the latest to fall prey to the deadly Chalara dieback disease, it has been confirmed.

Staff working at the 119-acre Arger Fen reserve initially discovered young trees showing visual symptoms matching those caused by the toxic chalara fraxinea fungus last week.

Samples were sent to the Forestry Commission’s plant health team for analysis and it was confirmed on Tuesday that around 35 acres of saplings were infected with the disease.

The announcement came as Environment Secretary Owen Paterson met with scientists, conservation groups and industry representatives in London yesterday to assess the extent of the disease, where it emerged that the Government had been told of ash dieback’s presence in the UK in April, but did not impose an import ban until October.

The area of Arger Fen affected by the disease is Hullback’s Grove – a piece of arable land acquired by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust in 2005 which has become one of the biggest areas of naturally-regenerated woodland in East Anglia, and a valuable site for dormice.

So far, Arger Fen is the only one of the trust’s woodlands where an outbreak has been confirmed. Staff there are awaiting instructions on how to deal with the dieback infection and they are still unsure if the Government will provide cash to help them tackle the problem.

Last night, the organisation’s chief executive Julian Roughton said: “We will take guidance from the Forestry Commission in terms of plant health orders, but as instances increase we have to learn how best to live with the situation.

“As the disease looks to be wind-borne, there is a low risk of spread through people but we would advise not to bring leaves from one woodland into another.”

The trust’s site manager for west Suffolk, Will Cranstoun, said Hullback’s Grove was unique in the county for its large area of naturally-regenerating ash. He added: “If it is wiped out, it will fundamentally change this landscape for hundreds of years to come.”

Last night, Suffolk Euro MP Richard Howitt described yesterday’s emergency ash tree disease summit as “too little too late”. He wants the Government to apply to the European Union for ‘protected zone’ status.

He said: “The Government ban on imports was too late, with the first disease found in a consignment of saplings sent from a nursery in the Netherlands in February.

“The revelation today that government ministers say they were not told until 3 April 2012 does not tally with the fact the UK Government reported the first confirmed infection to the European Commission on March 26.”

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