Multi-million-pound bill for tackling spate of diseases and pests affecting Herts’ trees

PUBLISHED: 12:00 24 January 2017

Gall wasp. Photo courtesy of the Forestry Commission/Matteo Maspero

Gall wasp. Photo courtesy of the Forestry Commission/Matteo Maspero

Forestry Commission/Matteo Maspero

Highly destructive fungal disease and pests are attacking local trees, leaving the county council facing a bill possibly running into millions of pounds.

Photo courtesy of the Forestry Commission/Matteo MasperoPhoto courtesy of the Forestry Commission/Matteo Maspero

Two years ago St Albans was pinpointed as the second place in the UK to suffer an attack by an exotic species of wasp which severely damages sweet chestnut trees.

The Forestry Commission served notice on Herts county council (HCC) after oriental chestnut gall wasps, a virulent pest, were found in 30-year-old trees lining Ashley Road.

A report for a recent environment planning panel meeting said that the removal and incineration of nine sweet chestnut trees, in line with ‘bio-secure’ measures, cost the authority £52,000.

With the county facing the threat of an “increasing number of tree pests and diseases”, officers warned councillors that the corporate risk was deemed as ‘severe’.

Gall wasp. Photo courtesy of the Forestry Commission/Matteo MasperoGall wasp. Photo courtesy of the Forestry Commission/Matteo Maspero

They admitted: “Prevention is not a realistic option or strategy. Until a better estimate has been reached regarding the number of trees the authority may have to deal with and over what timescale, costs are impossible to predict.

“The potential liability is anticipated to be over £10 million across a number of years.”

The Countryside Management Service has been allocated £50,000 to spend over the next two years to establish and manage a ‘tree health network’ across Herts.

Tree pests and diseases are affecting - or have the potential to affect - an increasing range of native trees gracing urban parks, streets and gardens, woodlands, lining highways, or growing in schools and nature reserves.

The environment panel was told that there are confirmed cases of fungal disease, Chalara ash dieback, “in the wider environment in all four corners of Herts”.

Ash dieback, an extremely aggressive fungus, is firmly established in St Albans district, and neighbouring areas. It has caused the widespread death of ash in Europe, where it is estimated that up to 90 per cent of trees in some areas have been affected.

Unfortunately, there is currently no treatment for the fungus, and with ash being this county’s most common tree, growing in urban and rural locations including parks, council officers said it had “potentially significant implications for the county’s landscape, biodiversity and rural economy”.

Despite the threat, the government has apparently indicated there will be no financial help available to deal with the problems caused by Chalara, and the impact on local authority resources.

HCC owns and is responsible for about 150,000 highway trees, the majority of which are in urban areas.

The authority’s highways contractor has a budget of £250,000 to survey the 15,000 ash trees lining roads.

By spring this year, following a review, the extent of the potential liability of the council’s ash tree population in relation to people and property will be known.

Meanwhile, oak processionary moth infestations were discovered in Watford and Hertsmere last year.

The health of oak trees becomes weakened after leaves are stripped, exposing them to the effects of other pathogens. The caterpillar is a pest because it is a hazard not only to the species, but to human and animal health as well. They have thousands of hairs containing a toxin which can cause highly irritating skin rashes, sore throats and, in some cases, breathing difficulty and eye problems. Their hairs are shed in a silken nest made by the caterpillar, making the pest and their nests a risk to public health.

And although the council removed the nine gall wasp-afflicted sweet chestnut trees from St Albans, “this response has not restricted the pest’s progress across much of south east England, including three new sites in Hertfordshire”.

The panel was told that such ‘threats’ were due in part to the increase in world trade in plants and plant materials, and exacerbated by climate change.

More news stories

13 minutes ago

A burglar was disturbed by a dog as he attempted to break into a house in St Albans.

45 minutes ago

A motorcyclist was taken to hospital after he was injured in a crash in St Albans.

There is to be a consultation on changing the A1081/A414 London Colney Roundabout.

A man convicted for using stolen bank cards in St Albans and Hatfield says he wants to go to prison.

CountryPhile

Recently we, as a family (minus two of the kids), visited The Lodge RSPB reserve in Sandy, Bedfordshire. I had never been before, which is perhaps amiss of me as a birdwatcher as it is the headquarters of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds or RSPB and only 45 minutes drive from home.

Digital Edition

Image
Read the The Herts Advertiser e-edition E-edition
Zoo Watch CountryPhile

Newsletter Sign Up

Herts Advertiser weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read stories

Show Job Lists

Herts Most Wanted Herts Business Awards