Acute Oak Decline has potential to change landscape even more than Dutch Elm Disease, say tree organisations in plea for research funds
A growing number of cases of a new disease affecting native oaks in Britain and lack of Government research funds to fight it are creating mounting concern amongst tree and forestry organisations, a major conference heard this week.
Delegates to the Royal Forestry Society’s packed annual conference at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire heard from pathologists and senior plant health officials from Forest Research, the Forestry Commission’s research body, as well as other professionals about the impact of Acute Oak Decline (AOD) on the UK’s best loved species.
There are now 55 cases of the disease confirmed at sites in the East of England, Southern England and the Midlands, with a steadily growing number of suspect sites still to be confirmed
John Jackson of the RFS who organised the conference said: “This has brought to a head considerable unease about the lack of engagement with this very real threat. Urgent action is not an option – it’s a necessity.”
The disease affects both pedunculate and sessile oaks, the two species of native oaks. Latest research indicates that the disease may be caused by a bacterial infection. The disease which appears to only infected mature oak trees is typified by signs of bleeding on its stems and areas of dead bark and branches, followed by rapid die back and death, often within a three to five year period.
Hilary Allison, policy director at the Woodland Trust, said: “The impact of the loss of an iconic tree both from our countryside and from towns would be catastrophic and therefore has the capacity to be a major threat to the UK’s oak woods, both ancient and secondary.”
Echoing her words, Peter Goodwin of Woodland Heritage said: “We’re looking at a disease that has the potential to change our landscape even more than Dutch Elm Disease and nothing is being done about it. We can’t afford a repetition of what happened then. Action is needed now.”
Excellent research into acute oak decline is taking place despite a severe shortage of cash within Forest Research, but the results of an application to Defra for funds to support a more co-ordinated approach on tree diseases will not be known until 2011.
In the meantime, forest owners and managers are concerned that there is little understanding of how the disease spreads and therefore of how best to control it.
Supporting the urgent call to a new incoming government to allocate more funds to Forest Research to tackle these issues are the Royal Forestry Society, Woodland Trust, National Trust, Woodland Heritage, Tree Council, Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF), Arboricultural Association, Confederation of Forest Industries and Country Land and Business Association.
Notes to editors
For media enquiries contact:
The Woodland Trust Press Office on 01476 581121, email: email@example.com
The Woodland Trust:
The Woodland Trust is the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity. It has 300,000 members and supporters.
The Trust has three key aims: i) to enable the creation of more native woods and places rich in trees ii) to protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future iii) to inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees
Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering approximately 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres). Access to its sites is free.
1. For further information on Acute Oak Decline visit the Forestry Commission website
2. The RFS Annual Conference held each April at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire has been a sell out this year with 250 delegates attending. This year’s programme on the theme of ‘tree diseases’ included presentations from pathologists at Forest Research and senior plant health officials from Forestry Commission, academics, forestry consultants and woodland owners from the UK on a range of tree diseases and their causes.