200 hectares of Wales' largest ancient forest to be felled due to tree disease

Published on Tuesday, 08 October 2013 13:45
Written by Sinead Fynes Black

Presence of Phytophthora ramorum highlights need for resilient woodland across UK as Woodland Trust carries out felling on largest ever scale due to disease

Almost exactly a year after the discovery of ash dieback in the UK, tree disease is still continuing to devastate woodland in the UK. Phytophthora ramorum, a disease already affecting thousands of larch trees across the South West of England, South Wales, Northern Ireland and the West of Scotland has been confirmed in Wales' largest ancient forest.

The vast majority of the 1000 hectare Wentwood Forest, near Newport, is owned by the Woodland Trust (Coed Cadw) and Natural Resources Wales. The organisations will clearfell over 200 hectares of diseased larch, starting in the first week of October, but it is expected the disease will continue to spread, requiring further felling in coming months and years.

Seven years of work by the Woodland Trust in Wentwood Forest will be undermined along with the trees as the delicate restoration work the charity began in 2006, involving the gradual removal of conifers to allow native broadleaf trees and characteristic ancient woodland flora and fauna to return, is destroyed. Sites like these, planted with conifers in the 1940s and 50s to provide fast growing wood for building, are known as 'plantations on ancient woodland'. Dense shading, soil disturbance, and acidification have diminished the special features of these woods, resulting in the decline of many species. Ancient woodland covers just 2% of the UK and these damaged sites make up half of this figure.

Andrew Sharkey, Woodland Trust Head of Woodland Management, said: "This is the most serious and devastating action we've had to take on our estate because of tree disease and it again highlights both the need to tackle tree disease and the importance of restoring as much of our damaged ancient woodland as possible to make it more resilient in decades to come.

"Restoration will allow native trees to establish themselves over a long period of time. Creating a resilient woodland landscape with different species of trees of different ages is the most effective natural weapon to ensure tree disease does not decimate the countryside."
Following the felling the Trust will immediately replant the wood with native broadleaf trees such as oak and cherry in the hope of preserving woodland specialist plants that only thrive when sheltered by tree canopy. As no restocking grants are available in Wales this year this leaves the Trust facing a bill of £35,000, unlike in England where grants are available.

John Browne from Natural Resources Wales said: "The felling in Wentwood Forest is very sad but this prompt action by the Woodland Trust (Coed Cadw) is essential to try to slow the spread of this devastating disease.

"Natural Resources Wales is investing £500,000 immediately to try to stop the disease from spreading further, with an additional £2 million being set aside for future work. Our ultimate aim is to make our forests more resilient to pests and diseases and we are heartened that the Woodland Trust (Coed Cadw) is to seize this opportunity to undertake change of structure and species within Wentwood Forest by planting native broadleaves."

As outlined in its 3 point plan in 2012, the Woodland Trust is working to tackle the threat of tree disease and create a more resilient wooded landscape. It has recently been awarded £1.9 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to undertake a UK wide ancient woodland restoration project, the charity is also at an advanced stage of establishing a tree procurement programme which will ensure all trees planted are UK sourced and grown. The Trust is also working with conservation bodies and the public to monitor tree disease through the Observatree project and is assisting in other large scale surveys.

Natural Resources Wales is also planning a series of Phytophthora Ramorum drop-in sessions to offer advice on what to look out for and how to report any suspicions. More information on the sessions will be advertised locally and will be posted on the Natural Resources Wales website.

Source: Woodland Trust

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