Killer disease threatens to wipe out Forest
A KILLER disease threatens to wipe out 20 per cent of the Forest's woodland.
Experts are waiting anxiously to see if Sudden Oak Death has taken hold in its larch tree plantations.
The deadly disease, dubbed the "foot and mouth" of trees, had spread like wildfire through the South West and Wales since being discovered in Somerset in 2009.
There is no treatment for the fungus-like pathogen, known as phytophthora ramorum, which can kill trees in a single season.
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There have been no confirmed cases in the Dean but Ben Lennon, planning and environment manager at the Forestry Commission, said rangers were deeply concerned.
He said: "So far in the Forest of Dean we've had a few false alarms but no confirmed cases.
"Larch is a very important species in the Forest of Dean.
"It covers about 1,000 hectares which is between 10-20 per cent of our woodland so it could have huge implications for us."
Originating in North America, the disease was discovered in the UK in 2003.
Its spread to Japanese Larch in 2009 has set alarm bells ringing.
The coniferous species, is a prime cash crop for the Forestry Commission due to its many uses, particularly as a building material. Last year thousands of infected trees were felled in Somerset to try to halt the spread of the disease.
Mr Lennon said: "An out break in the Forest of Dean would be very serious.
"The main thing about this disease is that the decline happens very, very rapidly and trees can be killed in a single season."
A tree suffering from the disease will suffer a blackening of its needles and black stripes and bleeding from the bark.
It is spread by tiny spores that are carried on the air.
Leslie Goodman, 37, who walks her dog in Cinderford, said: "It would be tragic if the disease was found here.
"Let's hope people keep a watch on it."
The only solutions scientists have at the moment is to destroy infected crops.
In infected areas signs have been put up asking the public to take steps to stop the spread of the disease, including washing boots, equipment and bike and vehicle wheels.