Belfast Telegraph

Ash killer is here... but when did officials know?

BY Chris Kilpatrick

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) was last night under fire over its handling of the arrival of a killer tree disease which has the potential to wipe out a large section of Northern Ireland’s countryside.

The presence of chalara fraxinea, known as ash dieback, was yesterday confirmed at five sites in counties Down and Antrim.

The young saplings, all linked to Continental imports, showed symptoms of the disease and laboratory analysis proved it.

The disease has already devastated huge areas of woodland across Europe, notably in Denmark where 90% of ash trees have symptoms and will eventually die.

North Antrim UUP MLA Robin Swann called it dreadful news.

And Mr Swann, who sits on the DARD committee at Stormont, hit out at the department’s handling of the crisis.

He said the department only made public the discovery of ash dieback here after he contacted it yesterday. He said as he made inquiries, action to destroy affected trees at Runkerry on the north coast was already under way.

“DARD knew about this before their statement today,” he said.

“Currently, the National Trust and the DARD are destroying imported ash saplings at Runkerry but there are obvious fears that this disease has affected native species.

“The Ulster Unionist Party has previously raised concerns about the possibility of exactly this type of event occurring and I will be demanding answers from both DARD and Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

“I just happened to get a phone call about the situation at Runkerry during the afternoon.

“Had I not, when were DARD planning to announce ash dieback had been found here?”

Northern Ireland is the least wooded region of Europe, with just 7% tree cover compared to the European average of 36%.

The Woodland Trust said approximately 40% of Northern Ireland’s woodland consists of the ash species.

News of the arrival of ash dieback here has sparked widespread concern.

A DARD spokesman said: “Statutory notices has been served on the owners of the plantations requiring destruction of around 5,000 affected ash saplings and associated plant debris.

“The department is also investigating a number or other sites planted with imported ash saplings as part of its ongoing surveillance programme.”

DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “The saplings and debris will be destroyed by burning and this work has already commenced. We have alerted our colleagues in the South and are continuing to work with them.”

The minister said all actions to contain and eradicate the disease have been taken byDARD, in line with scientific and legal advice.

She added: “Legislation was introduced north and south last month banning the import and movement of ash plants for planting from infected areas.

“However, we must remain vigilant as this disease still poses a very serious threat. I would appeal for a responsible approach over the coming season. I encourage all stakeholders to be alert for signs of this disease and report findings.”

Ash killer is here... but when did officials know?BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

THE Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) was last night under fire over its handling of the arrival of a killer tree disease which has the potential to wipe out a large section of Northern Ireland’s countryside.

The presence of chalara fraxinea, known as ash dieback, was yesterday confirmed at five sites in counties Down and Antrim.

The young saplings, all linked to Continental imports, showed symptoms of the disease and laboratory analysis proved it.

The disease has already devastated huge areas of woodland across Europe, notably in Denmark where 90% of ash trees have symptoms and will eventually die.

North Antrim UUP MLA Robin Swann called it dreadful news.

And Mr Swann, who sits on the DARD committee at Stormont, hit out at the department’s handling of the crisis.

He said the department only made public the discovery of ash dieback here after he contacted it yesterday. He said as he made inquiries, action to destroy affected trees at Runkerry on the north coast was already under way.

“DARD knew about this before their statement today,” he said.

“Currently, the National Trust and the DARD are destroying imported ash saplings at Runkerry but there are obvious fears that this disease has affected native species.

“The Ulster Unionist Party has previously raised concerns about the possibility of exactly this type of event occurring and I will be demanding answers from both DARD and Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

“I just happened to get a phone call about the situation at Runkerry during the afternoon.

“Had I not, when were DARD planning to announce ash dieback had been found here?”

Northern Ireland is the least wooded region of Europe, with just 7% tree cover compared to the European average of 36%.

The Woodland Trust said approximately 40% of Northern Ireland’s woodland consists of the ash species.

News of the arrival of ash dieback here has sparked widespread concern.

A DARD spokesman said: “Statutory notices has been served on the owners of the plantations requiring destruction of around 5,000 affected ash saplings and associated plant debris.

“The department is also investigating a number or other sites planted with imported ash saplings as part of its ongoing surveillance programme.”

DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill (left) said: “The saplings and debris will be destroyed by burning and this work has already commenced. We have alerted our colleagues in the South and are continuing to work with them.”

Background

Last week it was confirmed that ash dieback had infected sites in Meath, Monaghan, Leitrim and Galway. Seven sites in Scotland were also infected. Scientists are warning that the outbreak has the potential to devastate the UK's 80m ash trees. Experts have warned it could be as serious as the outbreak of Dutch elm disease, which devastated that tree in the 1970s. Forestry Service staff in Northern Ireland have been surveying tens of thousands of hectares of woodland to check for ash dieback. The service has said people should clean their boots and bicycle tyres after visiting woodland areas. About 32,000 hectares of woodland in Northern Ireland are likely to have some ash trees.

Last week it was confirmed that ash dieback had infected sites in Meath, Monaghan, Leitrim and Galway. Seven sites in Scotland were also infected. Scientists are warning that the outbreak has the potential to devastate the UK's 80m ash trees. Experts have warned it could be as serious as the outbreak of Dutch elm disease, which devastated that tree in the 1970s. Forestry Service staff in Northern Ireland have been surveying tens of thousands of hectares of woodland to check for ash dieback. The service has said people should clean their boots and bicycle tyres after visiting woodland areas. About 32,000 hectares of woodland in Northern Ireland are likely to have some ash treesB

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