Home > Environment, World of the Strange – Weird Science > Scots pine could be next casualty of a ‘tidal wave’ of tree diseases.

Scots pine could be next casualty of a ‘tidal wave’ of tree diseases.

By , The Observer, Saturday 3rd November 2012.

Threat to British trees ‘terrifying’, say experts, as fears grow over continental pathogens.

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Red deer stag in Scots pine woods, Scottish highlands

A red deer stag between mature Scots pines in the Highlands. The species faces a severe threat from two foreign pathogens. Photograph: John Bracegirdle/Alamy

Scientists have pinpointed the Scots pine as the next well-loved British tree species that could fall victim to foreign pathogens. They believe that the expected devastation triggered as ash dieback disease sweeps Britain – which could see most of the country’s 90 million ash trees killed off – could soon be followed by a second invasion.

Pinus sylvestris is considered to be particularly vulnerable because two major pests that attack it have already established themselves in western Europe: the pine wood nematode, a worm that infects pine trees and causes pine wilt, and the fungus Fusarium circinatum,which causes the disease pitch canker.

Both pathogens are poised to spread to Britain, say tree experts, and a simultaneous double attack would be devastating. The Scots pine is the national tree of Scotland and is distinctive for its blue-green needles and rich orange-red bark. It is also an important source of timber in the UK.

“I am extremely worried about the Scots pine,” said Dr Steve Woodward, reader in tree pathology at Aberdeen University. “It is an iconic tree to these islands and it is particularly vulnerable to these two tree pathogens, both of which have established themselves in France, Spain and Portugal and are causing tremendous damage there.”

Woodward was speaking last week at a briefing at the Science Media Centre where leading researchers outlined the risks now facing the forests, woods, gardens and parks of Britain following the discovery that ash dieback, caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea, has established itself.

Ian Boyd, chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said the disease was probably now infecting mature trees in Kent as well as East Anglia, where it was first found. “The disease almost certainly spreads through spores on the wind but may also spread through fallen leaves,” said Boyd. However, he ruled out the use of chemicals to treat the disease as impractical given the numbers of trees involved.

Ash dieback is just one of “a tidal wave of pathogens” that are arriving in Europe, added Dr Martin Ward, Defra’s chief plant officer, who described the situation as terrifying. “Unless we have better biosecurity in the EU it will be very difficult to stop them coming in,” he added.

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