Future ‘looking bleak’ for ash trees in West Sussex

Mr William Miller by an ash tree he thinks has spotted an Ash tree with Chalara ash dieback disease, behind his garden.
Mr William Miller by an ash tree he thinks has spotted an Ash tree with Chalara ash dieback disease, behind his garden.

The future of ash trees in West Sussex is said to be ‘looking bleak’ after cases of ash dieback have been located in East Sussex and Kent.

The wide-spread Chalara fraxinea fungus which causes ash dieback to develop was spotted as close as Buxted, East Sussex and the Kent countryside, leaving West Sussex with little hope of evasion.

Dr Tony Whitbread, chief executive officer of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, believes that the disease is already in West Sussex and it is just a matter of time before it is identified.

He said: “It’s a fast moving thing and with cases arising in the area it’s a likely chance that it’s already hit West Sussex.

“We’re not just dealing with one or two cases any more, it’s a whole different game now.”

With over 100 confirmed sites in the UK carrying the infection, many of the affected ash trees have been destroyed to prevent the spread, but Dr Whitbread said it is too late and nature should be left to run its course.

He continued: “Don’t cut and burn down the trees, don’t even use fungicide. It is far better to leave the disease and let nature take over.”

Ash dieback first appeared in Denmark in 2002 and has since eradicated up to 90 per cent of the country’s ash trees, but the surviving ten per cent are immune to the disease.

“Ash trees are genetically diverse.

“About ten per cent of the ash trees in Denmark were resistant.

“With thousands of seedlings in just one tree, they will regenerate in time.”

There have been no confirmed cases in West Sussex as of yet, but 100,000 trees have already been destroyed in the UK and a ban on importing ash trees has been introduced in a bid to prevent the spread.

“The disease will devastate our forests but nature has the ability to recover eventually.”

Environment secretary, Owen Paterson, recently said that mature trees affected with the disease should be left to the elements as they are too important to the wildlife and may help to identify resistant strains.

If any West Sussex residents believe they have spotted signs of the disease, please contact County Times reporter Simon Robb with your pictures on simon.robb@sussexnewspapers.co.uk or by calling 01403 751238.