Killer tree disease not yet in Borders

THERE have been no cases of ‘ash dieback’ in the Borders so far, but a local forester warned the killer disease could be the equivalent of the 1970s Dutch Elm disease to the ash population.

Forestry Commission Scotland’s Iain Laidlaw was commenting as an ongoing survey in affected areas this week assesses the situation.

He cautioned: “This disease has killed most of the ash trees in Denmark: it is potentially the Dutch Elm disease for ash trees.”

On Monday the Government introduced a ban on imports of the species and imposed movement restrictions with immediate effect. More than 100,000 ash trees have been cut down and burned in a bid to stop the spread of the imported fungus which has killed 90 percent of Denmark’s ash population.

But last week the disease was reported as being free in the UK’s natural environment for the first time.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), which has several reserves in the Borders, is calling for emergency action to save the native species and urging more funding be allocated to ash dieback and other tree diseases.

The charity is also demanding a re-examination of how imported plants are checked for diseases and wants foresters to use of saplings from nurseries that source their trees locally.

The only confirmed case in Scotland so far was found at a Forestry Commission Scotland woodland at Knockmountain, near Kilmacolm in Renfrewshire earlier this year.

An SWT spokesman said: “Its spread could be catastrophic for one of Scotland’s most important ‘keystone’ tree species. Many of our native species are dependent on ash, including birds like the bullfinch and butterflies, such as the dingy skipper.”

The chalara fraxinea fungus causes leaf loss and crown dieback and usually leads to the death of the ash tree.

Around 30 per cent of Scotland’s woodland trees are ash, which host insects, birds and bats, and experts describe the tree as being important ecologically and environmentally.