A Warwickshire firm has been told to burn 100 trees as the region was hit by one of its first cases of ash dieback disease.
The Government has ordered wholesaler Bernhard’s Nursery, near Rugby, to destroy an entire batch of ash trees in a bid to stop the spread of the airborne disease.
Routine checks by Defra produced positive samples from two diseased trees, leaving the business waiting to hear what action would be taken next.
But staff at the nursery are relieved that hundreds of other ash trees growing in a nearby field have been spared.
A spokesperson from the business said: “We have had confirmation from Defra to destroy the batch that the infected ones were in. But they are the only trees that need to be destroyed.”
The spokesperson added: “It is a relief – very much so. They are going to keep tabs on the other trees in the field.”
Experts fear the disease, chalara fraxinea, could decimate the nation’s 80 million ash trees – similar to the impact of Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.
It was first confirmed in East Anglia three weeks ago, but has since spread, with concentrations in East Anglia and the South-east, as well as cases scattered across England and Wales, and fourteen affected sites in Scotland, sparking a crisis summit at Holyrood this week.
Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh has accused the Government of reacting to the threat too slowly, claiming their “incompetence” has helped spread the fungus and saying the disease would “change our landscape forever”.
The case in Warwickshire is believed to be one of the first confirmed in the West Midlands and the trees are among 100,000 to be burnt so far across the UK.
Birmingham and Black Country Wildilfe Trust has been receiving calls from concerned members of the public but say all have so far been false alarms. The trust has warned the loss of ash trees would have “a dramatic negative impact” on green spaces around the city.
Neil Wyatt, chief executive, said: “People are obviously concerned and we’ve had quite a few calls, which we are passing on to the Forestry Commission, but no confirmed reports. It’s one of our most common trees and very well distributed across the city.
“Ash trees are particularly concentrated on limestone ground so they’re found more often around Dudley and the southern half of Birmingham – Sandwell Valley, Woodgate Valley, Wren’s Nest, etc.
“We’ve got ash trees in our reserve at Park Hall but I think more typically you are looking at urban parks and woodland.”
Despite efforts to slow the spread of the disease, Mr Wyatt says its unlikely to be a question of whether the disease will hit Birmingham and the Black Country, but when.
“I think it probably will come here. It’s hard to see how it won’t arrive. We need to limit the effects by keeping our eyes open and keeping wellies clean, etc.
“Whether it will be as devastating as Dutch elm disease we don’t know, but the one glimmer of hope is that there appears to be 10 per cent natural resistance within the population so we are unlikely to see them completely disappear from the landscape.
“We’ll hopefully be looking at a drop in the population rather than extinction.”
• Concerns about the disease can be reported to the Forestry Commission helpline on 08459 335577.