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Suffolk: One of county’s tallest oaks to be felled after deadly disease strikes

12:00 29 December 2012

Lord Cranbrook with some of the trees affected by Acute Oak Decline in their estate.

Lord Cranbrook with some of the trees affected by Acute Oak Decline in their estate.

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ONE of the tallest oaks in Suffolk will be cut down after falling victim to a deadly tree disease.

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Acute oak decline (AOD), which experts fear could be as devastating as chalara dieback of ash and Dutch elm disease, have been reported across the country, with a concentration of cases in Suffolk and north Essex.

Now landowners in east Suffolk have said they have no choice but to chop down an historic oak, which stands over a footpath, after the disease reduced its crown to 30 tonnes of dead wood.

They claim the death of the tree – one of nine so-called Crabbe oaks, said to be standing when the poet and clergyman George Crabbe lived in the area – signifies the deep cultural impact the disease could have on the Suffolk landscape.

Jason Gathorne-Hardy, 44, of White House Farm, which is part of Great Glemham Farms, near Saxmundham said: “One of the people I work with is a fourth generation timberman.

“He has an extraordinary understanding of timber and trees in Suffolk and he thinks it is probably one of the ten tallest oaks in the county in terms of height and stature.

“One of the theories we have looked at is that it would have been alive when Crabbe lived in the village. I’m pretty sure he would have walked underneath it.”

Mr Gathorne-Hardy said the tree, which first started showing symptoms of the disease four or five years ago, now had to be felled for health and safety reasons.

He added: “This is the thing I find most distressing that we are losing trees that have been around us some of them for hundreds of years. It seems like negligence and a lack of compassion and understanding for our surroundings to lose organisms that have overseen most of our recent historical developments.”

Although the disease has been known for a number of years, with some experts claiming they had seen cases 14 years ago, the exact cause, although thought to be bacterial, is not yet known.

Symptoms of AOD include dark weeping patches on the trunk, severe crown deterioration and D-shaped exit holes caused by the Agrilus biuttatus beetle.

Julian Roughton, chief executive of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, has previously urged people to take part in “citizen science” and report any suspected cases to the Forestry Commission.

Mr Gathorne-Hardy said it was vital that the profile of AOD was raised and called on the Government for improvements in how they respond to tree diseases.

He added: “There really seems to be a terrible complacency about what is happening to our trees. It is almost systemic failure.”

The EADT reported last week how Woodland Heritage, a charity dedicated to the proper management of British trees, had initiated a fundraising campaign after what they accused the Government of “underfunding the problem.”

Their work has led to the funding of an international bacterial taxonomist, a micro-biologist, a molecular scientist and a lab assistant at Forest Research – the research agency of the Forestry Commission.

A spokeswoman for Defra said they are taking the threat of tree disease seriously and a £1million project to increase the understanding of AOD is about to begin.

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