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Mystery disease threat to Sussex oaks
Hundreds of thousands of Sussex oak trees are under threat following the spread of a mysterious disease.
Experts are calling on residents to help prevent the spread of the puzzling and acute oak decline which has been confirmed in Sussex.
The Forestry Commission has warned against touching the trees in a bid to protect the county’s 25,000 acres of oak-filled woodland.
Four cases have already been confirmed in Sussex although many more are feared. Experts have taken the decision not to burn the infected trees in an attempt to carry out tests on the little-known disease.
Such is the seriousness of the outbreak that the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs, has pledged £1.1 million towards research.
Dr John Morgan, head of the Forestry Commission’s plant health service told The Argus: “Acute oak decline is a complex condition, and this new Defra funding will enable us to better understand the condition and the number and distribution of trees affected.”
The spread of the disease has hit areas in the South East, the Midlands and East Anglia. Confirmed cases have been reported in the Arundel area, north of Eastbourne and Hastings and west of Horsham.
Affected trees are characterised by dark fluid oozing from cracks in the bark. D-shaped holes have been found on the surface and in many cases the oak jewel beetle has also been present on tree stems. This has led scientists to look into the possibility that the beetle carries the deadly bacteria to the trees.
The warning comes as the Forestry Commission also announced a ban on the import of sweet chestnut trees following the outbreak of a deadly fungus found in Sussex.
The fungus, which is usually fatal, wiped out some 3.5 billion sweet chestnut trees in the eastern US in the first half of the 20th century and has caused significant losses in some parts of Europe since it emerged on the continent in the 1930s. Officials hope the ban, which will be implemented during the summer ahead of the autumn planting season, will stop the spread.
The infected trees in East Sussex have since been destroyed. Meanwhile experts have told The Argus that there have been “no recent cases” of ash dieback in the county.
It was feared that the disease, which spread to Sussex last autumn, could destroy thousands of ash trees. While experts say the problem has not worsened, there are fears it could spread again in the autumn months.
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