The Swansea Bay Rally that was due to take place on 17 July in the forests around Resolven and Rhondda in South Wales has been postponed.
Part of the route that is traditionally followed by competitors in this annual event goes through Welsh Assembly Government woodlands that are affected by the recent outbreak of the tree disease caused by the Phytophthora ramorum (P. ramorum) infection.
P. ramorum can be spread by tree needles and soil clinging to people or vehicles and, as the cars would travel between infected woodlands and uninfected areas several times during the course of the rally, there would be a high risk of spreading the disease.
Forestry Commission Wales met with the rally organisers, Port Talbot Motor Club, last week to try to identify an alternative route away from the woodlands affected by P. ramorum.
As the organisers were not able to find roads in the area that meet the standard required for the championship that the rally forms part of, they have taken the decision to postpone the event.
Forestry Commission Wales District Forest Manager Dai Jones said, "We are treating the outbreak of Phytophthora ramorum in South Wales very seriously and we are determined to minimise the impacts of this disease on woodlands.
"We are disappointed that the Swansea Bay Rally has been postponed but the risk of allowing a large number of cars to travel between areas that are infected by this serious tree disease and those that are not is too great.
"We hoped that, by working with the rally organisers, we could identify an alternative route but, as this has not been possible at this time, we look forward to welcoming the event back in future."
P. ramorum is a fungus-like pathogen that kills many of the trees that it infects. It was found on Japanese larch trees in South West England last year, and in woodland managed by Forestry Commission Wales on behalf of the Welsh Assembly Government in the Afan Valley, near Port Talbot, Dulais Valley near Crynant and Garw Valley, near Bridgend in June.
The outbreak in South Wales is the first time P. ramorum has been found on Japanese larch trees outside of South West England.
However, the situation is changing rapidly as surveys are undertaken and it is likely that the infection has spread more widely.
Forestry Commission Wales is holding discussions with other rally organisers to consider options for the events that are due to take place later this year.
The public woodlands remain open and signs at forest entrances ask visitors to observe some simple biosecurity precautions to minimise the spread of infection.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- Phytophthora ramorum (P. ramorum) is 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 Assembly Goverment, Scottish Government). It was first found in Britain on a viburnum plant in a nursery in 2002.
- 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, its American nickname 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.
- It 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.
- P. ramorum kills most trees that it infects, but symptoms vary according to the type of tree or shrub. On Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi) trees, it causes shoot tips to wilt and needles to turn black and fall prematurely. Numerous cankers that bleed resin can appear on branches and the 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.
- 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.
- 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, mists and air currents, and scientists at Forest Research, the Forestry Commission’s scientific research arm, believe this is the likely pathway for the Japanese larch infections from South West England to South Wales.
- In South West England, P. ramorum has affected a mix of Forestry Commission and privately owned forests.
- P. ramorum has not been found on any trees in Scotland.
- 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)
- 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.
For information about P. ramorum:
Photographs are available on request from the media contacts above. These include views of infected trees, close-ups of diseased needles and shots of staff taking biosecurity measures such as disinfecting their boots.