Expert calls for action on deadly tree disease in Sussex

The Wheatley elm at Alfriston Tye after succuming to Dutch Elm Disease. 2013. SUS-150817-114341001
The Wheatley elm at Alfriston Tye after succuming to Dutch Elm Disease. 2013. SUS-150817-114341001
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A highly infectious plant disease could spread out from East Sussex unless more is done to fell infected trees in the county, an expert has warned.

Retired arboriculturalist, Mary Parker reports Dutch Elm Disease is killing dozens of trees across the County and little is being done to limit its spread.

Wheatley Elm in Alfriston  before the disease. SUS-150817-120039001

Wheatley Elm in Alfriston before the disease. SUS-150817-120039001

Ms Parker fears the disease could reach the National Elm Collection in Brighton, if trees struck by the disease are not felled more quickly.

Ms Parker said, “You have to fell dead trees as quickly as possible. That is how you deal with Dutch Elm Disease to stop it spreading.

“I was driving around Sussex for five hours recently and I saw a great number of dead elms without hearing a single chainsaw or falling tree anywhere.”

The disease, is caused by a form of fungi spread by beetles, which burrow into the bark of elm trees.

The disease spreads quickly between root systems of nearby elms and eventually kills the infected trees.

The disease is thought to have killed at least 26 million trees in the UK since 1967.

Ms Parker continued, “We have the National Elm Collection in Brighton. The disease is so infectious it can be spread to other Elms very easily. One strong North Easterly wind would be all it would take to send it to Brighton.

Ms Parker says Elm trees struck by Dutch Elm in Sussex are being left unattended for too long potentially leading to further infection.

One tree, a Wheatley Elm in Alfriston Tye, has been left unfelled for more than two-years.

The tree in a historic beauty spot succame to Dutch Elm Disease in 2013, but has yet to be felled despite other Elm trees in the nearby area.The tree is now due to be felled on Wednesday August 19

An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “We were made aware that this tree was infected with Dutch Elm Disease in 2013.

“Initially, we attempted to prune the infection out of the tree to try and save it, but unfortunately this was not successful.

“The county council and Alfriston Parish Council, on whose land the tree stands, have made every effort to save the tree but have now concluded that felling is the only option.

“Felling such a large tree on a public space has taken careful planning, and there have been issues with county council funding which have delayed the process, but the tree has now been removed.”

The National Elm Collection is administed by Brighton and Hove City Council, a council spokesperson said: “We deal with many cases a year within the city so cases occurring elsewhere in Sussex would not cause panic within Brighton & Hove about the future of the elm collection here.

“We regularly have to fell elms here and we have a programme of planting disease-resistant strains to replace them.

“But we must stay vigilant – and at present we’re urging people to guard against spreading the problem by buying and transporting diseased elm logs for their fireplaces and woodburners. That’s probably the biggest threat to our trees.”