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Suffolk: Plans for early tree disease detecting system backed

PUBLISHED: 09:07 15 February 2013 | UPDATED: 09:08 15 February 2013

Scientists are working on tree disease detection devices which could have helped prevent the ash dieback outbreak last year.

Scientists are working on tree disease detection devices which could have helped prevent the ash dieback outbreak last year.

SUFFOLK woodland experts have welcomed scientists’ plans to develop an early tree disease warning system – which could have prevented the ash dieback outbreak.

Scientists at Syngenta, a crop research company, are working on a device which would identify plant diseases blowing across the sea from the continent.

The network of detectors, positioned in fields along the East Coast, would filter fungal and bacterial spores from the air before conducting tests and raising the alarm if harmful diseases were recognised.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) chief executive Julian Roughton said the device could help prevent the spread of outbreaks similar to ash dieback if it proved to be a long-term success.

He said: “I welcome anything that attempts to help in the prevention and detection of tree diseases, and it would be interesting to know how it would work in practice.

“There is great concern about a whole new range of diseases affecting our wildlife which would have a very significant impact, so this is very positive news.

“Once the disease becomes established it becomes extraordinarily difficult to eradicate, so the more action we can take the better.”

Mr Roughton, who previously said Suffolk was at the “frontline” of the disease, urged for further investment in the monitoring of diseases arriving from Europe following the ash dieback outbreak.

The disease went unnoticed for up to 10 years, allowing it to spread in mature woodland.

Mr Roughton said: “We were caught completely unawares and it is absolutely clear tree diseases and the investment in the prevention of them does not get the attention they deserve.

“There is a whole sweep of tree diseases but at least with these plans it does seem now the Government appears to be giving substance to the aspiration that we need to do more to tackle tree diseases.”

Meanwhile, West Suffolk Reserves assistant Giles Cawston questioned the practicalities of the proposed system, but said he would support any scheme aimed to help combat tree diseases.

He said: “I welcome any plans to help fight tree diseases, but if the devices are in fields then it means the disease is already here.

“Hopefully they will prove to be successful, but it’s not just wind that brings in the disease – importation of trees, wooded packaging and climate change, when it is not as cold in the winter to kill off the diseases, all contribute.

“But the diseases are definitely not going to ruin our countryside. Not all of them were affected.”

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