Page last updated at 20:44 GMT, Thursday, 7 August 2008 21:44 UK

Conkers championship under threat

Competitors at last year's World Conker Championship
Moths are destroying the leaves and a canker is killing the trees

The World Conker Championship held each year in Northamptonshire could be in jeopardy because of a disease which is attacking horse chestnut trees.

Moths are destroying the leaves and a canker is killing the trees which means conkers are in short supply for the competition held in October at Ashton.

Richard Howard, chief umpire, said: "It's a bit like having a football league with no footballs."

Tournament organisers said they may have to import conkers from Europe.

Every year 5,000 conkers are sorted for shape and size - contestants are not allowed to bring their own.

Two million chestnuts

But this is the first time in the competition's 44-year history that conkers have been affected by disease.

About two million horse chestnuts in Britain are now under threat, organisers said.

The trees survive through sap transporting water and nutrients, but the bacterial canker causes the tree to split and ooze sap, meaning the tree is starved of its food supply.

Tim Upson, from Cambridge Botanic Garden, said: "If it did get a lot worse and we started to see a lot of trees dying it would certainly change the face of parks and gardens."

Ady Hurrell, of Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, took the World Conker Championship last year.

Tournament organisers say they may have to start importing conkers from Europe

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