Are Lincoln’s trees under threat?

— Rebecca Campbell contributed with this report

Lincolnshire’s trees could be under threat from a previously unknown disease, prompting calls from The Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission to see the Government do more to control the arrival and spread of new diseases.

The latest disease, Phytophthora lateralis, has been confirmed close to the Galloway Forest Park in the south of Scotland. Other locations include Tollymore Forest Park and Somerset Forest in Northern Ireland, an industrial estate in Plymouth, as well as countries such as France and The Netherlands.

Phytophthora lateralis is an infectious agent that kills the roots of its host trees, mainly those of the Lawson cypress trees. Once infected the foliage starts to appear slightly lighter in colour before withering and turning reddish-brown as the tree dies.

Lawson cypress trees are in danger due to Phytophthora lateralis. Image: axelkr

As the Lawson cypress trees are one of the most significant conifers employed in the decorative plant trade in the UK, Phytophthora lateralis could present a serious threat to the ornamental plant industry if it remained.

This is why the Woodland Trust has been working along the Forestry Commission to call upon the government to pledge more funding and detail into research.

Even though the government has released a new ‘Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan,’ the Woodland Trust warns that the plan lacks the detail needed to make a difference when it comes to tackling what is rapidly becoming a severe threat to our urban, rural, woodland, park and garden trees.

Hilary Allison, Woodland Trust policy director, said: “Defra’s promise to re-allocate £7m for new research into tree health over the next three years is welcome but you would image that an issue that the government describes as ‘a top priority’ would receive new rather than re-allocated funding.”

While more detail is needed from the Plan, the Trust does support the view that the prevention of disease can be achieved through tighter regulations on timber, timber products and plant stock being brought into the UK.

Regulation is a step in the right direction considering that the UKis the least wooded country in Europe with only 12% of woodland cover compared to 44% for the rest o fEurope. Of this, 4% of cover is native trees and just 2% is ancient which is why the Trust and the Forestry Commission is continuing to lobby for better research.

With such a small percentage of ancient woodland, the Trust wants protective measures from the government as well as the creation of new woodland for future generations. By introducing set targets for tree planting in England like Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, native woodland cover could double in the UK by 2050.

Unfortunately, unless there are also measures to prevent new diseases from threatening trees, killer outbreaks not seen since the Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s and 80s or the Sudden Oak Death could lead to a reduction in tree planting from landowners, in addition to them closing their woods to the public.

“Given what we know about the public’s love of woodland and all the health and economic benefits associated with it, if this were to happen, it would obviously be a catastrophe for all concerned,” said Allison.

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