A DEADLY fungus which has already spread to Scotland could potentially decimate local woodlands, including the 40-acre Keil’s Den near Largo.
While the confirmed cases of Chalara ash dieback in Scotland have so far been at nursery sites, there are serious concerns about its potential to move into mature woodland.
The spread of Chalara fraxinea, the fungus that kills ash trees by stripping their leaves from the top down, has led to industry experts calling for the disease to be approached “like foot and mouth” before it devastates the UK’s 80 million ash trees.
Keil’s Den, thought to be ancient woodland in origin, is a long narrow wooded glen north of Largo and was bought by the Woodland Trust Scotland in 1992 from the owners of the Largo estate after the local community raised 75 per cent of the purchase price.
The den, which lost its mature elm trees to disease over recent years, is predominantly gorge ash woodland, although also contains many beech and sycamore, and a mix of other species such as birch and rowan. There are also a number of mature ash trees at the nearby small Largo Serpentine woodland, also owned by the trust.
Rory Syme, spokesman for the trust, said staff already took simple measures to prevent spreading pests and diseases when they visited woods, for example making sure boots and car tyres were clean when travelling between different sites.
“Our site managers have been given guidance on identifying Chalara ash dieback and are checking for the disease during routine site visits,” he said.
The disease has wiped out 90 per cent of ash tees in Denmark.
So far, the cases found in Scotland – the first was in Kilmalcom, west of Glasgow, and subsequently at woodland in Carrbridge and at a nursery in Moray, with a further unconfirmed case said to be between Edinburgh and Berwick – have been restricted to young trees imported as saplings.
All the infected trees have been isolated and destroyed.
In 2008, Woodland Trust Scotland planted 400 trees, including 100 ash, at Keil’s Den but Mr Syme said they would have expected to have seen signs of Chalara ash dieback long before now if these had come from an infected nursery.
A further planting by local schoolchildren in 2010 involved silver birch trees.
“There is some concern about the potential for it to spread into mature woodland in the Scottish countryside,” Mr Syme said. “We’re urging people to keep an eye out for signs of ash dieback, particularly among newly planted ash trees.
“Any suspected cases should be reported to the Forestry Commission as soon as possible.”
Charles Beaumont, a spokesman for the outbreak management team at Confor, the industry body for forestry in Scotland, said there was going to be a genuine need to try to stop the spread before it got worse and that it almost had to be treated like foot-and-mouth disease.
Lesley Scott, major parks officer with Fife Council, which has responsibility for woodlands at Silverburn and Letham Glen, said: “We are very aware of the situation affecting ash trees.
“We have taken on board Government guidance and are not importing any saplings.
“No ash trees will be planted this year and we are monitoring our existing stock as part of routine maintenance.”