Ramsbury naturalist warning of an imported diseases epidemic

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Peter Marren standing next to a healthy ash tree in his family garden Peter Marren standing next to a healthy ash tree in his family garden

Naturalist and author Peter Marren fears it is not just ash trees that are under threat from imported disease.

The killer fungus chalara fraxinea has arrived in Britain from Europe and has already been found in ten counties in the east of England. Forestry experts say it is only a matter of time before it sweeps the country, killing ash trees and denuding the countryside in the same way that Dutch elm disease destroyed elms.

However, Ramsbury naturalist Mr Marren says other rare trees suffering from imported diseases and/or the effects of global warming include the oak, beech, alder and crack willow.

He said: “Ash is, or was, about the last remaining thriving tree.” He fears that any ‘heavy handed’ moves to remove the trees with heavy machinery going into woods and copses will cause ever further damage to their fragile ecology.

Mr Marren, a semi-retired journalist, said he could look out from his Newtown home on the edge of Ramsbury and see ash trees everywhere in the woodland and along the River Kennet.

He fears, however, that the ash will inevitably go the same way as the mighty elm, which was an emblem of Wiltshire until Dutch elm disease wiped them out by their tens of thousands.

One of the county’s most famous elms stood in the middle of The Square in Ramsbury until the mid-1980s and became the logo of the Ramsbury Building Society.

Mr Marren said: “Trees have suffered from imported diseases more in the last 12 years than in the whole of the previous century”. He believes the ash dieback disease possibly arrived in Britain in the five million-plus ash saplings imported into the UK between 2003-10 for largely community planting schemes.

Writing in an online blog he said: “We are about to lose perhaps our most elegant, certainly the healthiest, native tree.”

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