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Survey takes off to combat tree disease

16 June, 2011 - by Michelle O'Neill

Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA, was today briefed on plans by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to combat the spread of ramorum disease of larch trees, P ramorum.

The Minister met with her officials, who will be taking part in a two day helicopter survey of local forests, to survey for likely symptoms of the disease caused by the fungus like organism, Phytophthora ramorum.

Eight infected sites have now been confirmed in woodlands on the Antrim Plateau and one in mid Down since the disease was first diagnosed in August 2010. Since then, felling has been completed in approximately 300 hectares of public forest estate and a further six hectares of private woodland to combat the spread of this disease. The disease has also been discovered in larch woodland in the south of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

Speaking ahead of the helicopter survey, the Minister said: “The aim of this survey is to quickly identify any new suspicious symptoms on larch, which can then be followed up by a more detailed ground inspection of the suspect sites. The helicopter team, including two DARD staff, will use an on board digital SLR camera to record larch crown condition, in both public and private woodland, in all six counties.”

She added: “The helicopter survey will help us to focus subsequent ground inspection of suspect sites, and DARD staff will examine and record symptoms in more detail, which together with field and lab tests and proximity of earlier outbreaks, will help us determine whether a new site is infected or not.”

Stressing the need for ongoing vigilance against the disease, the Minister concluded: “Following bud burst in spring and the growth of new larch needles and shoots in early summer, all woodland owners and managers must renew their vigilance for symptoms of the disease. Unfortunately, identifying symptoms of the disease will be made more difficult this year because of widespread browning of many trees, including larch, which we believe is associated with the exceptionally strong winds of 23 May.

“In most cases, we would expect these trees to recover during the year, unless they suffer further extreme events. However, if you observe symptoms unrelated to wind exposure, such as small groups of trees browning in otherwise healthy woodland, or resin bleeding from the tree crown, or failure of larch trees to recover from browning, report your concerns to the Department.”

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