A DISEASE threatening to devastate the UK’s native ash trees has now been found in 115 sites, which now includes parts of Northumberland, the Environment Department (Defra) has said.
Cases of Chalara ash dieback have been confirmed in woodlands in six more counties - Sussex, Berkshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Bedfordshire and Northumberland - in addition to Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and Essex where it had already been identified in the countryside.
The latest figures show the disease has been found in 61 locations in the wider countryside, as well as 39 planting sites and 15 tree nurseries, a total of 115 sites in all.
The results of an intensive survey by hundreds of officials over the weekend and this week comes as Environment Secretary Owen Paterson holds a summit with representatives of industry, conservation groups and experts to discuss the problem.
The Chalara fraxinea fungus, which causes leaf loss and crown dieback and can lead to tree death, has wiped out 90% of ash trees in some parts of Denmark and is becoming widespread throughout central Europe.
There are fears that the UK’s ash trees are facing a similar fate to its elms, which were destroyed by Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.
Martin Ward, chief plant health officer said: ``We have thrown all possible resources at this surveying exercise which has given us a much clearer picture of the distribution of the disease to inform our evidence base.
``The science on Chalara is still emerging and the more evidence we have, the greater our knowledge and understanding of this disease and the better we are able to tackle it.”
But Labour criticised the Government for responding slowly to the issue, after it emerged in a written answer ministers had been told about the presence of ash dieback in the UK in April.
Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: ``Ministers were told about the presence of ash dieback in the country on April 3 yet waited till October 29 to ban ash imports. This seven-month delay is a tragic example of the appalling incompetence and inertia which is a hallmark of this Government.”