District’s ash trees in danger

ASH trees throughout the Whitby and Esk Valley area could be in danger from a deadly fungal disease that has already affected trees in the nearby Guisborough and Redcar.

Hundreds of ash trees in parkland and open spaces are being checked by Scarborough Borough Council staff for signs of the disease. Its official name is Chalara fraxinea, known as die-back disease and it attacks all species of ash.

So far, a number of new ash trees planted by the council have been examined and there is no sign of Chalara fraxinea but In the coming weeks, parks and gardens staff helped by environmental health staff who will be specially trained to look for signs of the disease, will be inspecting ash trees in parkland and open spaces that are managed by the council, right across the borough.

There are many ash trees growing on council-owned land at popular and well known locations, including Larpool Wood and the former Whitby to Scarborough railway track, as well as smaller woods, cemeteries, parks and public open spaces.

Scarborough Borough Council Head of Environmental Services, Andy Skelton, said: “We were alerted to this fungal disease by the Forestry Commission and we have now checked all of our sites where ash trees have been recently planted. 

“However, given we have now seen the first cases of the disease on established trees elsewhere in the country, we have started checking the council’s tree stock throughout the parks, gardens and other areas of land owned by the council.

“Given the numbers involved this is an onerous task so we are temporarily redeploying other staff to help carry out these checks. 

“The staff will be given sufficient training to enable them to identify the tell-tale lesions on infected ash trees – the current level of leaf fall makes this the best method of identification. We will try to get all our ash trees inspected as soon as practicable.

“We will be contacting friends’ groups with information about die-back disease and will be asking them to keep their eyes open for any early signs that trees have been infected.”

The Government believes the infection in native trees could have been carried on the wind from mainland Europe. Unlike animals, trees cannot be vaccinated and once infected, a tree cannot be cured. A plant health order banning imports and the movement of ash trees came into force on 29 October.

Scientists say the spores, produced from infected dead leaves during the months of June to September, are unlikely to survive for more than a few days and trees need a high dose to become infected.

There is a low probability of dispersal on clothing or animals and birds. Wood products, if treated properly, would not spread the disease.