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Phytophthora demonstrates need for resilient woodland

The Woodland Trust (Coed Cadw) is being required to fell 60 ha of larch woodland at Wentwood, due to Phytoththora ramorum.

Six years after the discovery of ash dieback in the UK, and just a week after the spruce bark beetle was discovered in the UK for the first time, in woods in Kent1, tree disease is still continuing to devastate the country’s woodlands. Phytophthora ramorum2, a disease which has already required the clear-felling of over 200 ha of woodland at Wentwood near Newport, has sadly spread to new areas of the forest and the Woodland Trust is having to clear-fell a further 60ha of larch woodland this winter. The work started this December and will continue into the New Year.

Delicate restoration

The Woodland Trust acquired 353 ha (872 acres) of Wentwood in 2006, with the aim of undertaking a delicate restoration of the forest, gradually removing conifers to allow native broadleaf trees and characteristic ancient woodland flora and fauna to return. But the Trust has had to change its plans, having been served with Statutory Plant Health Notices to fell areas of woodland affected by Phytophthora ramorum.

Sites like Wentwood, planted with conifers in the 1940s and 50s to provide fast growing wood for building, are known as ‘plantations on ancient woodland’. Despite being diminished by the dense shading, soil disturbance, and acidification the special features and species of these woods are hanging on. Ancient woodland covers just 2% of the UK and these damaged sites make up half of this figure.

The Woodland Trust was required to clearfell 65 ha of woodland at Wentwood in 2013 and in early 2018. Keen to restore the woodland habitat as soon as possible, the charity replanted the areas affected within months. Five years later, the newly restored woodland is doing well and some of the young trees are already 2m tall.

"Don't panic!"

Rob Davies, Woodland Trust site manager at Wentwood said: “The message from me is ‘Don’t panic!’ 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.”

He adds: “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.”

Notes for editors:
1. The Spruce Bark Beetle (Ips typographus), which poses a significant threat to spruce trees, but not to human health, was discovered in Kent earlier this month. More about this on the Gov UK website
2. Phytophthora ramorum is a fungus-like pathogen which can attack a wide numbers of trees and plants, but which in the UK has principally affected larch trees.