Deadly oak disease hits Welsh private woodland


An outbreak of the pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, otherwise known as sudden oak death, has been discovered for the first time in Wales on trees in a privately-owned woodland, reports the Forestry Commission Wales.

Staff from Forestry Commission Wales and the Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera) have visited the owner of the woodland in Denbighshire and a notice has been served to fell the infected Japanese larch trees. Only a small number of trees are infected, and the owner will use the timber on site.

Sudden oak death is a fungus pathogen that kills many of the trees that it infects. It was first found on Japanese larch trees in Wales in June this year in public woodlands  near Port Talbot, near Bridgend.

The outbreak in South Wales was the first time P. ramorum has been encountered on larch elsewhere in Great Britain since it was first discovered on larch in South-West England in 2009.

The woodland owner, Wendy Charles-Warner, contacted Take Cover, to say: “We feel rather aggrieved at the tone of the [Forestry Commission] press releases stating that we have been served with enforcement notices as if we were responsible for this outbreak and somehow in the wrong.

“We could take no steps to prevent this disease which is mainly airborne, have done nothing wrong and have at every point done everything we can to assist the forestry commission.”

A motor rally set to attract thousands of spectators to South Wales in July was postponed as a result of an ou6tbreak of the tree disease.

The route of the Swansea Bay Rally ran through forests that had been hit by the infection.

Richard Siddons from the Forestry Commission Wales said the organisation was “determined to minimise the impacts of this serious tree disease on woodlands, and the support of woodland owners in looking out for early signs of P. ramorum infection will play a key part in achieving that”.

It seems as if the warm but wet summer has been a key driver in the development of tree pathogens, with a number of cases making the headlines.

In April, a group of woodland experts expressed their fears for the future of British native oaks in light of the emergence of a disease called Acute Oak Decline, a bacterial infection that, they warned, could be as devastating for the English Landscape as Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.

They called for much more financial support from the UK government to help tackle the problem through research and land management measures.

In July, the Forestry Commission announced a £600,000 support package for woodland owners in South-West England and Wales to help tackle the outbreak of P. ramorum infection on larch trees. The package is part of Defra’s £25 million, five-year Phytophthora management programme.

Forestry Commission Wales is developing a complementary programme of support for private woodland owners who have P. ramorum confirmed on their land. Details of this support will be announced in September.

Ms Charles-Warner, in her comment to the story on this blog (see below for her full response), added: “

The ‘package of assistance’ that the Commission have announced is £300 per hectare, which we are not receiving or going to receive.

“If you have knowledge of tree felling you will appreciate that in a situation where stringent biosecurity measures have to be used and the trees have to be felled and brashed by hand that is a paltry sum, even in the highly unlikely event that you receive it.

She went on to say that she was “deeply concerned” about the situation: “If the Commission wishes landowners to report Phytopthora Ramorum and control it, in order to protect commercial forestry, then realistic support needs to be in place.

“Many landowners faced with a the prospect of funding felling and site clearance work themselves with the attendant stress and unpleasantness, are likely to ignore the disease and not report it.”

More information about sudden oak death can be found on the Forestry Commission’s website at www.forestry.gov.uk/pramorum.

To find out more about the support fund or to report suspected P. ramorum infection in their trees, woodland owners should contact Forestry Commission Wales’s Grants & Regulations Office on tel: 0300 068 0300 or email: bww.ts@forestry.gsi.gov.uk.

Source: Forestry Commission Wales press release

Date: 25/08/2010

Wales to update its ancient woodlands map


Forestry Commission Wales has announced plans to update the nation’s Ancient Woodland Inventory.

Take Cover library image In a press release, the commission said that these habitats, which date back to at least the 17th Century, “support many species of plants and wildlife that depend on the evolving but continuous environments created by dead and dying wood and broken sunlight”.

It added that the inventory was first produced about 30 years ago, and since then, technology for gathering data had improved dramatically and better sources of information had come to light.

The update, which will be carried out over the next 12 months, will identify former ancient woodlands that have subsequently been planted with conifer trees to satisfy the demand for timber over many decades.

These woodlands are known as Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).

This information will guide decisions on restoring some of the PAWS to their natural state by removing non-native trees and planting native broadleaf species such as oak, birch, rowan and ash.

“Such work helps to increase the variety of different plant and wildlife species in the woodland by improving habitats and providing food and shelter,” the commission explained.

Wood pastures – ancient and veteran trees found on grazed sites – will also be systematically recorded as part of the update to the inventory.

Despite the ecological value of wood pasture, it has no legal protection, so identification on the inventory may help protect these sites from damage or destruction.

The concept of  “ancient woodland” was developed in the 1970s and 1980s, when studies showed that woodlands that have had a continuous woodland cover for centuries were typically of higher nature conservation value than those that had developed recently.

The baseline date of 1600 AD was adopted because reasonable maps were available from this time (in England, at least).

But the commission admitted that it was an arbitrary date, and there was no clear ecological cut-off.

Michelle van Velzen, forestry and environment policy and programme manager at Forestry Commission Wales, said: “Ancient woodlands are a precious and finite resource that cannot be recreated.

“This update to the Ancient Woodland Inventory will ensure we have the most comprehensive and accurate information on the extent and nature of ancient woodlands in Wales.”

The update to the inventory will be completed in March 2011 and the new information will be supplied to local authorities for their use when developing planning policy that affects woodland.

Source: Forestry Commission Wales press release

Date: 11/06/2010

Welsh woodlands to fight climate change


Climate change experts from across Europe will be seeing how the Welsh woodlands are already helping to alleviate the effects of climate change, says a press release from the UK Forestry Commission.

Researchers in Wales are putting in place exciting new ways in which the forests can help prevent flooding as well as locking away millions of tons of carbon dioxide.

Leading members of the new FUTUREforest project will be taken on a fact-finding tour of south Wales on 26-27 March, 2009.

The mission is part of the project’s remit to share experiences and new methods of environmental management to prepare the forests of Europe for climate change.

Specialists from the other six partner regions – Auvergne, France (biodiversity); Brandenburg, Germany (knowledge transfer); Bulgaria (soil protection); Catalonia (natural risks); Latvia (timber production); Slovakia (carbon sequestration) will see some of the effects of climate change on Welsh forests – and some of the solutions in and around Abergavenny.

They will see how woody debris dams, new woodland creation and other flood risk management techniques in the uplands can help to prevent the kind of flooding that has caused millions of pounds worth of damage across Wales.

The 30 strong delegation will be staying at The Hill Education & Conference Centre, Abergavenny, and visiting Forestry Commission Wales woodland sites at Mynydd Du, Usk College and the Woodland Trust’s Great Triley Wood.

“We have already begun to discover much about the way the woodlands of Europe can help us to combat climate change,” said Mike Over, Project Manager of the FUTUREforest project in Wales.

“We hope that experts from our partner regions discover that in Wales we have made some really exciting new discoveries that can help them back in their own countries.”

Source: Forestry Commission press release

Date: 19/03/2009

Bleeding cankers continues to take its toll


The avenue of 43 horse chestnut trees at Barrington Court, near Ilminster, in Somerset is being cut down and replaced with a variety of oak, the Telegraph reports.

The National Trust decided the trees had do go for safety reasons, following an infection of bleeding canker that causes the trees to lose bark and branches and eventually die.

The Trust has already had to cull a number of other horse chestnuts at properties around the country, with 28 trees recently chopped down in Avebury, Wiltshire.

Home-owners around the country have also had to cut down horse chestnuts because of the disease, which the Forestry Commission say has killed 3,000 tree in recent years.

The disease is spread by spores in the ground and can cause the tree to bleed a reddish brown liquid. It can be controlled by cutting out infected areas but will eventually kill the tree.

Christine Brain, head gardener at Barrington Court, said: “Bleeding canker is rife in England’s horse chestnuts.

“It kills the tree from the inside out, and while doing so makes it susceptible to other infections which hasten the trees death.

“We’ve been maintaining the trees over the last few years in an effort to extend their life and keep the disease as controlled as possible, but removal is now our only sensible option.”

Horticulturalists have warned that conker trees are in danger of dying out in Britain unless more is done to control the disease.

The call comes as the UK government announced a £25m package to curb the spread of sudden oak death through woodlands in England, Wales and Scotland.

Source: Telegraph newspaper

Date: 03/03/2009


Christmas trees ‘could hold cure to killer flu’


Christmas trees could provide part of the answer to treating the killer bird flu virus, according to researchers at Bangor University, Wales.

Scientists at the university’s BC Centre, working on a Woodknowledge Wales (WKW) project, have discovered that Welsh grown Sitka spruce contains valuable pharmaceutical material.

According to a report on the News Wales website, pine needles that drop into the carpet and found months later contain traces of shikimic acid, described by experts as an essential ingredient in the world’s only weapon against bird flu.

And now the research points to a possible way to extract this valuable new source of the drug from forest waste materials.

“The work so far shows that material that at best is chipped and composted can provide an excellent source of expensive chemicals needed in today’s society,” said Dr Dennis Jones of WKW.

” If a viable market existed for more than 70 tonnes of Welsh spruce oil, the gross value would be more than £10 million, not including production costs.”

Bangor’s researchers have also discovered essential oils, resins, flavinoids – anti-oxidants which can help fight heart disease – and sugars with probiotic properties which could be used in health products.

“Biorefinery of green materials has been proposed as a way to add value to the Welsh forest,” said Graham Ormondroyd of the Biocomposites Centre.

“Certainly our initial research shows that it is possible.”

Twigs and needles were taken off Ffridd Mountain, part of Bangor University’s Henfaes Research Centre at Abergwyngregyn.

Steam and organic solvents were used to extract the oils and further research identified the different naturally occurring chemicals.

“This is a classic example of how BC focuses on the science of renewable plant materials technology, turning it into a clear, commercial advantages for partners and clients.

Source: News Wales website

Date: 19/12/2008

Yew cuttings help cancer research


An operation is under way to prune the yew hedges at an estate in Wales, and help the fight against cancer at the same time, the BBC News website reports.

The annual task at Chirk Castle takes up to eight weeks to finish, and results in about three tonnes of clippings.

They are then bought by a company which transports them to be processed into chemotherapy drugs.

The castle’s head gardener, David Lock, said it was “brilliant” to think they were helping develop anti-cancer drugs.

The drugs docetaxel and paclitaxel are developed from yew trees.

Both drugs can also be made synthetically, but yew needles are still collected and used across Britain.

At Chirk, they are bought and collected by Doncaster-based Friendship Estates, which claims they are used as the raw material for anti-cancer drugs, particularly breast and ovarian cancers.

The company’s website said clippings should be one year’s growth, because the required chemical is concentrated in greener areas of the plant.

The statuesque hedges, which line the main gardens and are dotted throughout 11 acres of grounds, were planted in 1872.

The castle, built by Edward I, is more than 700 years old and is surrounded by 500 acres of parkland.

Debbie Coats, clinical information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “There are two common chemotherapy drugs developed from Yew trees.

“One of them, docetaxel (Taxotere), first made from the needles of the European yew. The other, paclitaxel (Taxol) and was made from the bark of the Pacific yew.

“These are used to treat some breast, prostate and ovarian cancers. Both drugs are manufactured in the lab but the needles are collected and sold to the drug industry for this purpose.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 18/08/2008

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