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Trees survive dieback for longer

Trees in a Somerset plantation have survived ash dieback for far longer than previously thought possible - suggesting there may be potential to slow the spread of the disease in the British countryside.

The National Trust said only 10% of the 6,000 ash trees at the Holnicote plantation, near Minehead, are showing any signs of the disease, despite having been infected for five years longer than any other tree in the UK so far.

Ash dieback, known as chalara fraxinea, is present in one other small plantation nearby but does not appear to have spread any further, which the National Trust said was at odds with Government predictions suggesting it should have spread further and infected more trees in this time.

The National Trust findings suggest tackling the disease in the UK is not a lost cause and control measures could slow the spread from South East England, where the disease appears to have been wind-blown from mainland Europe.

With an estimated 80 million ash trees in the UK - making up one third of the country's tree cover - this could be good news for the British landscape which would be radically changed by the disease if it is allowed to spread rapidly across the country in the coming decades.

Dr Simon Pryor, natural environment director at the National Trust, said: "It's important that the disease has not appeared to have spread very far at all.

"Even the trees affected have not suffered as much as we'd have expected, and very few have died, despite apparently having had the disease for nearly a decade.

"Whilst we don't want to be too optimistic on the basis of this one outbreak, this does confirm the view we've held from the outset that it is worthwhile removing infected trees in order to try to slow the spread - especially in places like this so far from the main area of the disease in the South East.

"We will be asking Government to look again at its control strategy in the light of this new evidence - which to us does not appear to fit well with current modelling."

The National Trust discovered the outbreak of ash dieback at its Holnicote Estate in September when undertaking routine inspections for the disease.

The trees were planted back in 2001 to mark the millennium and pre-date other outbreaks of the disease by five years.

It is likely that these trees - like thousands of others imported to the UK at the time - were infected whilst being grown on in central Europe.

Mark Courtiour, countryside operations manager at Holnicote, said: "Discovering the disease at such a large site is particularly heartbreaking.

"Like others, we were shocked to discover that the trees we thought were being grown in British nurseries were actually being grown on and imported from the continent.

"We will be felling all the infected trees as a matter of priority and filling the gaps with other species.

"However, there is a real glimmer of hope and we are continuing inspections at the site."

The National Trust has had several cases of ash dieback on its land, mostly in the east of England and in Northern Ireland.

These include the ancient Hatfield Forest, where some young coppice shoots have shown signs of the disease.

So far the National Trust has destroyed over 3,000 ash saplings, all of which appear to have been infected when supplied to the trust and planted out on its properties.

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