Devastating tree disease set to change our landscape
EAST Yorkshire's woodlands are set to change forever as a devastating disease hits our shores.
Chalara fraxinea, better known as ash dieback, has now been found at a third site in the region.
Earlier this month the disease was discovered at sites north of Market Weighton and Hornsea. A third site has now been confirmed just west of Hornsea.
All the cases are from established woodland areas rather than newly planted sites.
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There is a sense of resignation over the arrival of the airborne fungus which has already rampaged across Europe, destroying millions of ash trees.
About 60 per cent of our woodland is made up of ash, meaning the disease's arrival will transform glens, forests and glades across the county.
"The main issue for East Yorkshire is that there is a higher percentage of ash trees than in other parts of the country," said Mark Feather, the Woodland Trust's site manager for East Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire.
"Most of the woodland is dominated by ash.
"It is also one of the least-wooded areas, so it could have an even greater effect."
Winter is a difficult time to identify diseased trees, as the obvious signs are found on the leaves.
"At the moment we are just going to review the situation in the spring," Mr Feather said.
"You can detect the disease when the trees are not in leaf but it is much more difficult.
"But we will keep up the vigilance in the meantime."
The news of three cases in East Yorkshire means the focus has moved from prevention to damage limitation.
"There is very little we can do now it has been discovered in Market Weighton and Hornsea," Mr Feather said. "We hoped it would be confined to the South East.
"There is a chance there will be other areas in the county that have been affected.
"We are working with the Forestry Commission about control measures.
"There are restrictions on moving timber."
The concern now is what impact the loss of ash trees will have on habitats across East Yorkshire.
"We have great concerns for the impact on wildlife and habitats," Mr Feather admitted.
"Our ancient woodland sites rely on the shade the trees give so clearing affected sites will have a huge impact. You cannot easily repair that.
"It will have a much wider impact and there is a lot of wildlife that relies on these ash trees.
"We could replace the younger trees, maybe with something like maple.
"But we will probably just leave the mature trees and only remove those close to footpaths and roads."
Mr Feather says there is a mixture of alarm and optimism.
"You only have to look abroad to the likes of Denmark to see the worst-case scenario," he said. "But there may be trees that are more genetically resistant, which is what we are looking at.
"There is a serious chance ash could disappear from our countryside altogether. But I think there will be a percentage that will survive.
"Young trees appear to be more susceptible, so replanting is probably not the answer.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is also monitoring its own reserves in East Yorkshire.
"The ash is such an important part of the woodland," said chief executive Rob Stoneman. "This would be devastating. This would be akin to the impact of Dutch elm disease but ash is more genetically diverse.
"It maybe some ash trees will have resistance to the disease."
Mr Stoneman doesn't believe some of the advice being bandied about is very sound.
"The advice around changing your boots and washing your dog is nonsense," he said.
"This is spread by airborne spores. We are disappointed the Government didn't take earlier action."
The trust is now asking members of the public to keep an eye out for the disease.
"We need to check all our woodland areas in East Yorkshire and inform the Forestry Commission if we discover any cases of ash dieback," Mr Stoneman said.
"We have a network of volunteers looking at our sites.
"We will possibly be putting up signs on our reserves to ask people to inform the authorities if they detect any cases of ash dieback. We will also be putting up information on Facebook and Twitter."
Mr Feather admits the outbreak could permanently change East Yorkshire's landscape.
"If you look at a classic ancient woodland in Yorkshire, it's dominated by ash, more so than in any other part of the country," he said.
"Without ash we won't have the fantastic spring covering of bluebells and other spring flowers.
"They are also important for butterflies and other invertebrates.
"We have to be cautious about what might happen but we could see a completely different forest after this.
"If we could find a cure and replant trees it would still take 50 to 100 years for them to grow back again."
It is not known who owns the land where the three cases have been discovered but East Riding Council is monitoring the situation.
Earlier this month, Nigel Leighton, director of environment and neighbourhood services at the council, said: "The Government has committed to producing an action plan to combat the spread of the disease, involving further monitoring of trees by owners and managers of land and the destruction of diseased trees that have been recently planted.
"The council will review this plan and act in accordance with those guidelines."
Plant health experts and volunteers have been examining about 2,500 blocks of land, each 10sq km, where mature ash trees are known to be present in order to seek out the disease.
The disease has wiped out 90 per cent of ash trees in some parts of Denmark and is becoming widespread throughout central Europe.
The Forestry Commission said there is no risk to human or animal health and there is no need to restrict public access to woodlands.