A TOP-LEVEL case of contagious ash dieback disease was yesterday officially confirmed in Northumberland.
The mobile virus, which carries a major threat to ash trees, was identified at an undisclosed site near Wooler, close to the Northumberland National Park.
The site’s “wider environment” diagnosis is at the high-alert level of the Forestry Commission’s warning system, which means the chalara ash dieback virus has been found on an established tree or trees, with a risk of contagion.
The discovery coincided with the Government’s summit at Kew Gardens, London, yesterday, which was due to issue new security instructions.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson met with scientists and foresters to decide on the best strategy to combat the growing threat. An extra 33 infected sites were located in the UK yesterday, bringing the total to 115. Robert Mayhew, landscape authority officer at Northumberland National Park, said the outcome of the Kew summit was being awaited before the next step in this area was decided.
Of the Northumberland outbreak, Mr Mayhew said: “Exact details of the site have not been released, but it looks as if it is just outside the park.
“The disease can potentially spread and could be mobile through the air, so we are on standby to help.
“We are asking for everybody to be vigilant when out and about, looking for signs of the disease in ways that you are familiar with, but also being mindful of security measures that are required, such as washing of boots.”
Forty-eight hours ago, a non-contagious ash dieback site was identified near Newcastle Airport, but cleared.
Three more in County Durham – two near Seaham and one at Newton Aycliffe – were also located and cleared.
But the Northumberland case is the first serious contagion risk case in the North East. People are being asked to step up their vigilance, looking out for the telltale withering and blackening of ash leaves.
A Forestry Commission spokesman said last night that the Northumberland case was a “red-dot” alert on the daily-updated map it was now producing.
Nationally, the map shows 61 “wider environment” sites, including the Northumberland case, 39 planting sites and 15 nurseries.
Yorkshire, Sussex, Berkshire, Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire were other newly-listed counties along with Northumberland yesterday.
Woodland Trust chief executive Sue Holden said the ash dieback situation was “a sad reflection” on the degree of priority given to woodland protection.
And shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh attacked the Government for its slow response to the problem.
She 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.”