Four new cases of ash dieback disease have been discovered across the Borders over the last six weeks.
Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) confirmed tests had revealed Chalara in an Eyemouth woodland, and three newly planted sites at Stobo, Duns and Kirk Yetholm.
Overall 13 new sightings of the fungus, which kills infected ash trees, have been identified in Scotland since December 5, 2012, which represents an increase of 50 per cent. The Scottish total now stands at 39.
However, an FCS spokesperson emphasised that the sharp rise was “simply a reflection of the test results coming through, not new incidences of the disease being found.”
Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Paul Wheelhouse, added: “The recent increase is not an indication that the disease is spreading. Chalara is only infectious – and easier to identify – in the summer months.
“I have visited an affected site and seen for myself how difficult it is to spot the disease in winter. These sites were amongst the 150 suspicious sites flagged during our initial ‘rapid survey’ of 2,730 sites, but have now been confirmed as having Chalara present. This work is ongoing and it is likely that more sites will come to light.
“It is, of course, disappointing that four Chalara sites have now been confirmed in the Borders – but given the extent of the disease across the UK (330 sites including those in Scotland), and what we know about how it can be spread, it is not unexpected and is consistent with our understanding that the disease can be borne on the wind from sites in Northern England or on the continent.
“We are focusing on developing our understanding of Chalara and considering what can be done to significantly slow its spread. I am hosting a Tree Health Summit early in March and feedback from that meeting will help inform a specific Scottish approach.”
Mr Wheelhouse, the SNP MSP for South Scotland, added that the Scottish and UK Governments are developing an Interim Chalara Control Plan, and that the Scotland Tree Health Advisory Group, aimed at developing a more specific Scottish approach, expects to report by April 2013.
Ash dieback fungal disease has infected 90 per cent of the species in Denmark, and threatens to devastate Britain’s 80million ash population. Symptoms of the disease include wilted brown/black leaves, lens-shaped lesions on branches, fungi on leaf stalks, and dark brown wood down the middle of the stem.