Felling of larch put on hold over winter months

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Phytophthora ramorum affecting trees in South West England - Larch

A temporary embargo on issuing licences to fell larch has been introduced by Forestry Commission Wales as part of the ongoing fight against the spread of ramorum disease of larch.

During the Winter, once the larch have dropped their needles, it is impossible to identify symptoms of the disease and confirm if the trees are infected.

This embargo will remain in place until 31 May 2012. 

Once the trees have flushed with new needles next Spring, any infected larch can be identified before felling so that biosecurity measures can be taken to avoid spreading the disease.

This is the second year running that a winter embargo on felling larch has been put in place.

Richard Siddons, Head of Grants and Regulations at Forestry Commission Wales, said, “Having considered several options, we decided to re-introduce the temporary embargo on issuing felling licences, where larch species are a component, during the Winter.

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

"Last year, woodland owners and managers responded well to the first embargo and we only received a handful of applications involving larch during that time.

"I would like to thank them for their co-operation and assure them that we will process their application as quickly as possible once we can visit the site and establish whether the standing timber is infected with ramorum disease.”

Normal administration of felling licences involving larch will depend on the timing of needle flush next Spring, but is expected to be no later than 1 June 2012.

If 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. Any harvested produce may then only be transported to premises licensed to receive infected material.

Forestry Commission England has also introduced a winter embargo on processing applications to fell larch as part of the Forestry Commission’s cross-country policy for the management of ramorum disease.

Further information about ramorum disease can be found on the Forestry Commission’s website at


1. Ramorum disease of larch is caused by the pathogen Phytophthora ramorum (P. ramorum), which can infect more than 150 species of plants and trees.

2. P. ramorum was first identified in the United Kingdom in a viburnum plant in a garden centre in West Sussex in 2002. It has since been found infecting a wide range of plants and trees throughout the UK. Until recently it had mostly affected shrubs such as rhododendron, camellia and viburnum, but only a limited number of trees; and from late 2008 infection has been found in the environmentally important bilberry plant (Vaccinium myrtillus - known as blaeberry in Scotland and winberry in Wales).

3. In August 2009 P. ramorum infection was confirmed in Japanese larch trees in South West England. This was the first time it had been found infecting a commercially important conifer tree species anywhere in the world, and has since been confirmed in larch trees in all four countries of the UK as well as the Republic of Ireland.

4. Tree mortality is rapid – P. ramorum appears to be able to kill Japanese larch trees within one growing season after its presence is first detectable, which, compared with other tree diseases, is fast acting. In Japanese larch, 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.

5. Infected Japanese larch trees produce particularly high numbers of the spores that spread the disease – much higher than the level produced on Rhododendron ponticum. This means the disease can quickly affect a large number of trees and shrubs. The pathogen can be spread in mists, rain and air currents.

6. P. ramorumis a ‘quarantine’ organism under European Union law, and its presence on trees or woodland plants must be notified to the relevant authorities (Forestry Commission, Fera, Welsh Government or Scottish Government), who must take statutory action to contain or eradicate it.

7. Forest Research scientists have advised that the most effective means of preventing the spread of the disease is to fell infected trees and plants to kill the living plant material on which the pathogen depends.

8. P. ramorum does not harm the timber, and logs from infected trees can be sold into the timber market, subject to biosecurity measures to ensure that their movement does not further spread the disease.

9. Larch is a durable, versatile timber that tolerates changes between wet and dry conditions very well, resists rotting when used in the ground, and is easily stained, worked and finished. It is therefore in demand for outdoor uses as well as flooring and chipboard.

10. There are about 134,000 hectares (331,000 acres) of larch woodland in Britain: about 5 per cent of the total woodland area.

11. P. ramorum is not harmful to humans or animals, and all public woodlands remain open to visitors, except in areas where felling operations are taking place, which are temporarily closed for safety reasons.

12. P. ramorum causes the disease known as "sudden oak death" in the USA, where a different mating type has killed millions of North American native oak and tanoak trees in California and Oregon. However, its American common name is a misnomer in Britain, where laboratory tests have shown that our native sessile and pedunculate oaks are much more resistant to P. ramorum than their American cousins, and fewer than five native oak trees have been confirmed with P. ramorum infection in Britain. Therefore the generic term ‘ramorum disease’ is used in Britain instead of ‘sudden oak death’.

13. 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.

Media enquiries

 P. ramorum in Great Britain overall and P. ramorum research - Charlton Clark, 0131 314 6500;

P. ramorum in Wales - Mary Galliers, 0300 068 0300;

P. ramorum in England – Stuart Burgess, 0117 372 1073 or Becci Turner 0117 9066030;

P. ramorum in Scotland – Steve Williams or Paul Munro, 0131 314 6508/7.