Hunt continues for tree diseases


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Two potentially lethal fungal diseases of trees and shrubs are being surveyed by the Forestry Commission.

Phytophthora ramorum, which is the causal agent of a condition known as Sudden Oak Death in the USA, and Phytophthora kernoviae.

A different but related strain of P. ramorum has also been found in parts of Europe, including the UK, where it has been found in some nurseries and gardens. So far it has been found mostly in non-native shrubs such as viburnum and rhododendron, some beech trees and one non-native oak tree.

At present P. kernoviae does not appear to affect as many plant species as P. ramorum, but there are indications that it is more virulent, because it appears to be causing more serious damage to its main host, Rhododendron ponticum. Among tree species it is known to have infected are two native English oaks and about 40 beech trees. To date it has been found in 22 locations in Cornwall, five in South Wales, one in a Cheshire nursery, and most recently on a single rhododendron in North West England.

The main outbreak of P. ramorum and P. kernoviae has been in Cornwall. Defra's Plant Health & Seeds Inspectorate (PHSI) put in place an extensive programme of new surveys of previously unsurveyed woods, which were supplemented by a further survey by the Forestry Commission of 14 previously unsurveyed woods. These surveys by PHSI and the Forestry Commission resulted in the identification of some further outbreaks.

An outbreak of P. ramorum has been found in Devon near the Cornish border. The Commission is about to survey previously unsurveyed Devon woods, again those in admixture with rhododendrons, to help determine whether P. ramorum is more extensive than the one outbreak so far discovered, and whether P kernoviae is also present in the county.

Reports on these surveys should be available on the Commission's Plant Health Service website, www.forestry.gov.uk/planthealth, by the end of the year.

Anyone who suspects the presence of either disease on plants or shrubs should contact the local offices of Defra in England, the Welsh Assembly Government in Wales or SEERAD in Scotland. If the disease is suspected on trees, they should contact the Forestry Commission's Plant Health Service in Edinburgh on 0131 314 6414.

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