Page last updated at 00:58 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Plant diseases threaten woodland

Woodland scene
Beautiful woodland scenes like this could be at a premium

Some of the finest gardens and woodlands in Britain are under threat from two closely related and aggressive fungus-like plant diseases.

Environment minister Jane Kennedy said they were attacking "pristine" locations and could potentially damage the landscape and the tourism industry.

The government has allocated 25m in a bid to eradicate the diseases which are spreading across the country.

They are Phytophthora kernoviae and Phytophthora ramorum.

Rhododendrons, a carrier of both diseases, are likely to be removed in woodland to combat the problem.

The flowering shrubs, popular as an ornamental species in many gardens, also grow wild in wooded areas and an area of the New Forest has already been cordoned off to allow rhododendrons to be cut down and burned.

Phytophthora kernoviae, first found in the south-west of England in 2003, reached Scotland five years later. It attacks and kills many trees and shrubs, including the oak and beech trees which make up so much of Britain's woodlands.

Devastated

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says 69 sites in England and Wales are currently affected, with Cornwall the worst-hit region.

Phytophthora ramorum, first identified in 1995, has devastated woodland on the west coast of the United States where it has been responsible for the syndrome known as sudden oak death.

Few control mechanisms exist for the disease, so the importance of early detection - and proper disposal of the infected plant material - is key.

The government is to earmark some of the money for new research and development, and there will be a campaign to make landowners aware of the threat.

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SEE ALSO
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