Felling of larch to be put on hold over winter months

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A temporary halt on issuing licences to fell larch has been introduced by Forestry Commission Wales until the end of May 2011 as part of the ongoing fight against the spread of Phytophthora ramorum (P. ramorum).

This will allow infected larch to be identified in the spring when they have flushed with new needles as, once needles have dropped in the autumn, it is difficult to confirm if a stand is infected.

Rachel Chamberlain, Grants and Regulations Operations Manager, Forestry Commission Wales, said, "Having considered several options, we decided to adopt a short-term approach to dealing with applications for a felling licence, where larch species are a component, during the winter months.

"This approach will enable us to establish whether the standing timber is infected with Phytophthora ramorum, and avoid the risk of the unintentional spread of this serious tree disease.

"If infected trees were to be felled unknowingly, infected material could circumvent biosecurity measures and undermine the controls that have been put in place to try to limit the impact of this outbreak.

"We are hoping to return to normal administration of felling licences involving larch next spring - the exact date will depend on the timing of needle flush but is expected to be no later than the beginning of June."

From now until the end of May, all applicants for a felling licence from Forestry Commission Wales will be advised that the usual processing times for applications has been extended until 31 May 2011.

Applications will continue to be accepted and registered in the usual way and, in the spring, Forestry Commission Wales staff will visit the site and establish whether the standing timber is infected with P. ramorum.

If it proves to be uninfected, a felling licence will be issued as soon as possible.

If the standing timber shows symptoms of infection, a Statutory Plant Health Notice (SPHN) will be issued for the trees to be felled within a specified timescale. This will also require that any harvested produce may only be transported to premises licensed to receive infected material.

Applications for felling approval for larch through the Better Woodlands for Wales scheme will not be approved this winter.

Kath McNulty, National Manager for Wales, Confederation of Forest Industries (ConFor), said, "ConFor supports biosecurity measures to try and reduce the spread of this disease and, although these measures are hard for woodland owners, I hope they won’t cause too much distress."

The approach in Wales follows the introduction of a joint Forestry Commission England and Forestry Commission Wales policy in connection with the processing of felling licence applications for larch over the winter months. See the information note on the Forestry Commission Wales website for more details

P. ramorum is a fungus-like pathogen that kills many of the trees that it infects. It was first discovered on Japanese larch trees in Great Britain in 2009 in South West England. It was then found on larch in public woodlands in South Wales in June 2010. Further information about P. ramorum can be found on the Forestry Commission’s website at


1. P. ramorum is a ‘quarantine’ organism under European Union law and its suspected presence must be notified to the relevant authorities (the Forestry Commission, Fera, the Welsh Assembly Government or the Scottish Government). It was first found in Britain on a viburnum plant in a nursery in 2002.

2. P. ramorum can kill many of the plants that it infects, but symptoms vary according to the species. On Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi) trees, it causes shoot tips to wilt and needles to turn black and fall prematurely. Cankers that bleed resin can appear on the branches and upper trunk. Infected Japanese larch trees produce particularly high numbers of the spores that spread the disease – five times the level produced on rhododendron - meaning the disease can quickly affect a large number of trees and shrubs.

3. P. ramorum has not been found infecting any European larch (Larix decidua) or hybrid larch (Larix x eurolepsis) trees, which are the other two species of larch grown in Britain, but these species are being kept under close surveillance.

4. P. ramorum can be spread on footwear, vehicle wheels, tools and machinery that have been used in infected forests, or by the movement of infected plants. It can also be spread in rain splash, mists and air currents.

5. P. ramorum was first discovered on Japanese larch trees in Great Britain in 2009 in South West England. It was then found on larch in South Wales in June 2010 in public woodlands in the Afan Valley, near Port Talbot, in the Garw Valley, near Bridgend and in the Vale of Glamorgan. Felling of infected larch trees in South Wales is underway and Forestry Commission Wales is working with timber processors and others to ensure biosecurity measures are in place to allow logs from the infected trees to be taken to mills for conversion into timber.

6. P. ramorum has not been found on any trees in Scotland.

7. P. ramorum is not harmful to humans or animals.

8. P. ramorum causes the disease known as "sudden oak death" in the USA, where it has killed millions of American native oak and tanoak trees. However, this name is a misnomer in Britain, where laboratory tests have shown that our two native species of oak, sessile and pedunculate oak, are much more resistant to P. ramorum than their American cousins. Fewer than five native oak trees have been confirmed with P. ramorum infection in Britain.

9. P. ramorum should not be confused with acute oak decline (AOD), which is a separate disease affecting oak trees in the Midlands and parts of Wales and South East England, and in which a newly discovered bacterium species appears to be involved.

10. Larch is a durable, versatile timber that tolerates changes between wet and dry conditions very well, and resists rotting when used in the ground. It is therefore in demand for outdoor uses such as fence posts, fence panels, exterior wall cladding, boats, sheds and furniture, as well as indoor uses such as flooring and chipboard. It is easily stained, worked and finished. Complete figures are not available for Japanese larch numbers alone, but all three larch species together cover an estimated 134,000 hectares in Britain, or about 5 per cent of total woodland. Individual country figures are:

  • Wales – 23,000ha / 8 per cent;
  • England – 43,000ha / 4.3 per cent;
  • Scotland – 65,000 ha / 5.1 per cent.

(To convert hectares to acres, multiply by 2.47)

11. About 14 per cent of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Assembly Government. Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Assembly Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf. Forestry Commission Wales provides advice on forestry policy to the Minister responsible for forestry. It provides grant aid to other woodland owners and regulates forestry by issuing felling licences. It is also part of Forestry Commission GB and contributes to the international forestry agenda. More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on

12. In July, the Forestry Commission announced a £600,000 support package for woodland owners to help tackle the outbreak of P. ramorum infection on larch trees. The package is part of Defra’s £25 million, five-year Phytophthora management programme.


For information about P. ramorum:

• in Wales - Mary Galliers, 0300 068 0300;

• in Great Britain overall – Charlton Clark; 0131 314 6500