A WOODLAND conservation group has announced 150 acres of trees at Wentwood Forest are being felled to stem the spread of a devastating tree disease – the third time the forest has been struck by the problem in the last six years.
The area currently being cut down is roughly the same as 75 football pitches, and makes up one-sixth of the area the Woodland Trust organisation purchased in 2006 for the purpose of restoring native broad-leaf species to Wales’ largest ancient woodland.
Two previous attacks of the deadly tree disease, in 2013 and early 2018, led to a total area of woodland roughly the same as 500 football pitches being completely cut down as Wentwood’s foresters tried desperately to contain the spread of Ramorum disease, caused by the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora ramorum.
And work is now underway to clear another area of larch woodland in which the disease was recently discovered.
But Rob Davies, Woodland Trust site manager at Wentwood, offered words of reassurance.
“The message from me is ‘Don’t panic,'” he said. “It’s a huge shame that the disease has spread to even more of the wood, but we will remove the trees as required by law, and replant as soon as we can with new native saplings – oak, cherry, rowan, birch, and hazel.
“Our aim is to restore the land as native woodland to protect the remnant ancient woodland features as soon as we can.
“The key point is that we need to tackle tree disease and restore as much of our damaged ancient woodland as possible to make it more resilient in decades to come.”
Phytophthora ramorum was first found in the UK in 2002, but few trees were affected until 2009, when large swathes of larch woodland in south-western England were struck down with Ramorum disease.
The disease is now found across the UK but is most common in Mid- and South Wales, western Scotland, and south-western England.
Larch trees are particularly susceptible to the the forms of the disease which exist in the UK, while the strains found in North America commonly infect oak species native to the continent, giving the disease there the nickname “sudden oak death.”
Mr Davies added: “At least 19 pests and diseases are now attacking UK trees. Six have reached epidemic levels, posing a real threat with the potential to eradicate wildlife habitat, change the landscape significantly, and destroy livelihoods.
“Our changing climate and increasing globalisation all increase the risk, and more work needs to be done to improve biosecurity measures to prevent new pests and diseases arriving into the country.”
In December, the Forestry Commission identified a breeding population of the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle in Kent – the first time the destructive pest has been discovered wild in the UK.