Highways concerns as 96 per cent of Lancashire's ash trees are infected with fatal Ash Dieback disease

Almost all the ash trees in Lancashire are suffering from the fatal Ash Dieback disease.

By Catherine Musgrove
Thursday, 16th September 2021, 12:30 pm
The disease in a young ash tree
The disease in a young ash tree

Lancashire County Council believes that 96 per cent of ashes in the county have the highly-destructive fungus, which can lead to infected trees shedding branches or limbs, or potentially collapsing as the tree dies.

With the council estimating there are 127,000 ash trees next to roads throughout Lancashire, regular checks are now being carried out to check they do not pose a threat to safety.

>>>Click here to read about the Preston primary school where 65 diseased trees have been removed.

But as many of the trees are on private land, the council has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the issue among residents, businesses and landowners to inform them of their responsibility to ensure their trees do not become a hazard to road users or people using adjacent pavements.

County Councillor Charlie Edwards, cabinet member for highways and transport at Lancashire County Council, said: "It's vital that everyone who has ash trees on their property takes action to make sure they don’t become a danger to themselves or anyone else.

"The county council has stepped up its safety inspections of trees in response to the threat from ash dieback, which is no small task as there are thousands of ash trees next to roads, as well as many others alongside countryside paths, and on other properties.

"The county council, the Forestry Commission, the Tree Council and the Woodland Trust all recommend that tree owners should have their trees regularly inspected by a professional so that, as the disease progresses, appropriate decisions can be made and accidents can be prevented.

Woodland has been decimated around St Andrew's CofE Primary in Ashton, Preston

"People should pay particular attention to ash trees within areas where the failure of the whole tree or falling branches could place people or neighbouring property in danger."

What is Ash Dieback?

Ash Dieback, also known as Chalara, is a disease of ash trees, especially European or Common ash, the UK's native ash species.

It is caused by a fungus which originated in Asia and has now swept across Europe, killing up to 90 per cent of ash trees in some countries.

There is no cure for the disease and it is fatal in the vast majority of cases. Contamination in the UK is beyond the point where the spread of infection can be stopped and the disease is now known to be present across 56 per cent of the UK, including 96 per cent of Lancashire.

Infection enters a tree through the leaves and bark and young trees die within a couple of years, but mature trees usually take longer. However large trees can become dangerous long before they die, so owners must take action to ensure safety if trees are in locations where they could pose a risk to people or property.

Infected trees are a target for other diseases to attack and worsen the problem. An infection at a point close to ground level can cause whole trees to become unstable and dangerous over much shorter periods with no obvious dieback symptoms in the crown.

County Councillor Edwards added: "While safety must be the priority, felling the tree should not be the first option, particularly as some ash trees are known to show resistance to Ash Dieback, and we have been part of a national effort to secure genetic material from these trees to try to ensure the future of the species.

"In many cases it may be possible to reduce the risk by pruning branches, re-routing paths, or even repositioning items away from the tree so that people can avoid being in the immediate area.

"People should also be aware that, with certain exemptions, all trees in Britain are protected by the Forestry Act, which means that a felling licence is required to remove them. Tree owners should be clear that their tree is in an exempted category, which includes trees in gardens, or obtain a licence, before any felling takes place."

What is Lancashire County Council doing?

A spokesman said: "We are currently surveying the county’s roads in order to record where ash trees are and what level of infection they are showing. This information will help prioritise any action required, such as felling or further inspections.

"Our ash dieback strategy will include working closely with districts, boroughs and parish councils, as well as members of the public who own ash trees close to public highways.

"We have also donated some genetic material from resistant trees in order to assist plant scientists who are working on a breeding programme to bring on resistant trees for the future."

Reporting a tree at risk of collapse

If you spot a potentially dangerous tree which is not on your land but you think may cause a hazard to a footpath or highway, report it to Lancashire County Council by clicking here.