1,500 trees being felled because of disease

UP TO 1,500 trees are being felled from two woodlands in Devon due to a devastating disease.

The Forestry Commission confirmed the disease Phytophthora Ramorum in a number of trees at The Grove and Ball Copse following ground inspections and laboratory sample testing.

P.ramorum is a fungus-like microorganism that causes extensive damage and can kill a wide range of trees and other plants.

The Grove and Ball Copse are owned by Torbay Council and managed by Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust. The Forestry Commission served Statutory Plant Health Notices on the trust and council requiring all the larch trees and those sweet chestnut trees showing signs of the disease to be felled before the end of March.

To accelerate matters, the trust has agreed to give Torbay Council a licence to allow it to enter the woodlands and manage the necessary operations.

The environmental and economic impacts can be serious if P.ramorum levels are allowed to build up in the environment, so early felling is essential to minimise the risk of the disease spreading to neighbouring trees and other plants.

The estimated size of Ball Copse is 5.06 acres and of this, there is estimated to be up to 2.3 acres of larch.

The estimated size of The Grove is 37.7 acres and of this, there is estimated to be 14 acres of larch.

It is expected that the removal of between 1,000 and 1,500 trees will take place and result in 2,700 tonnes of timber.

The timber is being sold to sawmills in the South West which means it will be processed into fencing materials, garden products and pallets. The lower grade timber will go into the local biomass plants for power and heat generation.

Councillor Robert Excell, Executive lead for community services, said: “Following the statutory notice issued by the Forestry Commission we instructed Hi-Line SW Ltd to carry out the felling works required at Ball Copse and The Grove woodlands in Churston.

“We continue to be very committed to ensuring the maintenance and protection of trees across Torbay which is why this felling work is necessary.

“Unfortunately it appears that over 1,000 larch and sweet chestnut trees have been infected by P.ramorum and it is essential that we carry out these works to limit the spread of this disease to other healthy trees and plants.

“Due to large machinery being needed to carry out the work, and the large number of trees needing to be extracted, parts of the woodlands will be restricted to members of the public. This is to ensure the safety of everyone who uses the woods and it will be well signposted to show which tracks are shut.”

Damian Offer, director of Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, said: “The trust has sought to work positively with all our partners and neighbouring land owners to tackle this problem since the Forestry Commission notice was originally served some years ago.

“We are pleased that prompt action is being taken now that matters which hitherto prevented the trust taking action to remove the infected trees have finally been resolved.

“While the loss of a significant number of trees is always regrettable, removal of the larch and sweet chestnut does offer a great opportunity to facilitate the establishment of more appropriate native broadleaved woodland within The Grove and Ball Copse, which will offer improved habitat for wildlife.”

A spokesman for Torbay Council said that the delay in acting upon the notice was caused by the council needing to obtain permission to access the site, which is landlocked.

Mick Biddle, regional tree health officer for the Forestry Commission, said: “We are committed to minimising the spread and impact of P.ramorum disease across the country, and working with Torbay Council to protect trees and other plants in the borough.

“The actions which the council is taking are in line with the national P.ramorum disease management strategy, which is based on the scientific advice of the Government’s chief plant health officer.

“The strategy’s emphasis on early destruction of infected and likely infected plants before they can spread the disease further has helped to significantly reduce the rate of new infection in recent years.”

In preparation for these works, the council instructed Hi-Line Contractors SW Ltd to create a clear access path for machinery and to safely remove logs. This path has been created on private land in agreement with the land owner and tenant.

As part of this work there are temporary parking restrictions along a section of Bascombe Road, near America Lane.

The works, due to take place over 12 weeks, started on January 4.

There will be no further planting following these works as this will allow for natural regeneration to take place.

Torbay Council confirmed that the route has been identified as a potential leisure route for walking and cycling and the council is looking to implement improvements to the quality of the route following the clearance works.

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