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Quick facts

Common name: Dothistroma needle blight, formerly red band needle blight

Scientific name: Dothistroma septosporum

What does it affect?: pine trees

Areas affected so far: across the UK

Origin: unknown

What does Dothistroma needle blight look like?

In the UK, symptoms of Dothistroma needle blight are most visible between June and July.

Symptoms include:

  • Needles develop yellow and tan-coloured spots and bands which turn red over time. Older needles are more affected.
  • The needles might have an overall brown or reddish colour instead of distinct banding which makes it hard to distinguish.
  • Infected needles are shed within a few weeks of being affected.
  • Branches with shed leaves have a ‘lion’s tail’ look with only tufts of the year’s needle growth left at the end.

What is Dothistroma needle blight?

Dothistroma needle blight is a fungus which causes premature needle drop. It can cause a loss of yield in commercial forestry, and in severe cases, death of the tree.

Symptomatic rust red band on needle

Credit: Kieth Burdett / Alamy Stock Photo

What happens to the tree?

The fungus forms small, black fruiting bodies on the needles. The fruit releases spores that land on another host tree. They then germinate on the needle surface and grow through the stoma, damaging the needle, discolouring it and causing it to drop.

Serious infections impact the tree’s ability to photosynthesise.

Where has Dothistroma needle blight impacted?

Dothistroma needle blight has now spread across the UK. There has been a rapid increase in infections since the 1990s in both Europe and China particularly.

It seems to have the most impact when trees are planted out of their native range.

How did Dothistroma needle blight get here?

We’re not sure exactly where Dothistroma needle blight originated but it is thought to be a native needle pathogen in Central America and Nepal. It most likely spread through a combination of factors including the transport of infected plant material and a spread by wind over land.

Black fungus of red band needle blight on pine needle

Credit: UK Crown Copyright of Fera / WTML

What impact will Dothistroma needle blight have?

The main concern with this disease is the impact it will have on our Caledonian pine forests. Luckily our native Scots pines are able to withstand low levels of infection so the most important thing is the removal or the more susceptible non-native pine species, like Corsican lodgepole pines which increase local infection levels.

What are we doing about it?

To combat pests and diseases like Dothistroma needle blight we have:

  • Developed a UK Sourced and Grown assurance scheme to make sure that all the trees we plant and sell are produced in the UK.
  • Lobbied the government to improve biosecurity at border points to stop new pests and diseases entering the UK.
  • Partnered with Observatree, a tree health citizen science project which trains volunteers to spot pests and diseases, thereby helping tree health authorities identify and manage outbreaks early.
Horse chestnut tree discoloured to yellow after a leaf miner infestation

Trees woods and wildlife

What we are doing about tree pests and diseases

We are fighting back against pests and diseases. Find out what we're doing to prevent the spread and protect the UK’s trees. 

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