The Forestry Commission is appealing to the owners and managers of sweet chestnut trees to step up their vigilance for sweet chestnut blight following the discovery of a tree with the disease in the summer.
A single sweet chestnut tree infected by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica was confirmed on a private property near Maidstone, Kent after the owner spotted and reported suspicious symptoms to the Commission with its Tree Alert on-line disease reporting tool. The tree has been destroyed and a survey of trees within 5km carried out, with no further cases detected. The disease had been recorded only twice before in the UK, in 2011.
Andy Hall, Tree Health Manager for Forestry Commission England, said,
“The affected tree was destroyed, with the co-operation of the owner, to prevent any further spread. Forestry Commission and Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) surveyors conducted a survey of sweet chestnut and oak trees (some species of oak can also be affected) within 5km of the tree, including plants in nurseries. Where possible, APHA traced other sweet chestnut plants supplied by the nursery which supplied the infected tree, to check on their health.
“Happily, no further evidence of the disease was found, but we cannot afford to be complacent and presume that’s the end of the matter.
“Our surveyors cannot be everywhere all the time, so we are also appealing to owners and managers of sweet chestnut trees to remain vigilant. Please follow the example of this owner and inspect your trees frequently for signs of ill health, and report any suspicious symptoms to us, preferably with Tree Alert.
“The infected tree was a variety selected for nut production, as were the 2011 cases. We are therefore particularly asking nut growers to do this, although we have no evidence that the disease has spread from the infected trees found in 2011.”
C. parasitica is a quarantine organism, so the investigation, survey and tree destruction were conducted in compliance with the UK’s obligations under its protected zone status, and following the contingency plan for such a situation. An incident management team comprising Defra, APHA and Forestry Commission staff was quickly mobilised, and “the planning paid off with a very smooth operation,” Mr Hall said.
Jane Barbrook, plant health wider environment lead at APHA, added,
“We’re taking this opportunity to remind people that if they’re bringing trees, plants and seeds of sweet chestnut, oak, pine, elm, plane, ash and prunus into England and Wales, they must notify APHA. Details of how to do this can be found at www.gov.uk/guidance/importing-trees-and-plants-to-england-and-wales-from-the-eu.”
Imports of these species into Scotland must be notified to the Horticulture & Marketing Unit of the Scottish Government’s Rural Payments & Inspections Directorate. See www.gov.scot/Topics/farmingrural/Agriculture/plant/PlantHealth/PlantMovements/ImportsAndExports for details.
The Forestry Commission web page, www.forestry.gov.uk/chestnutblight, provides links to a factsheet and Pest Alert with photographs of symptoms to help owners know what to look for, and there is a link to Tree Alert on the same page.
Notes to Editor:
- The disease on the Kent tree was diagnosed by Forest Research and Fera Science.
- Sweet chestnut blight was found in newly planted trees in two nut orchards in England in 2011. The trees were destroyed, and other sweet chestnut trees supplied by the same supplier from the same source in France were also traced and destroyed. The disease had not been seen again in the UK until this latest case, and the plant health authorities have no evidence that it has spread from the 2011 sites.
- Under the EU’s Protected Zone status for C. parasitica, imports of sweet chestnut plants from elsewhere in the EU must be accompanied by a ‘plant passport’ certifying that they originated in a region free of the disease. No evidence of the disease has been found in trade.
- C. parasitica is a fungus of Asian origin which killed most of North America’s sweet chestnut trees (Castanea dentata) in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was first recorded in Europe in the 1930s, and is now widespread across the European mainland. However, there is evidence that in Europe the disease can decline in virulence, or be induced to decline, allowing some infected trees to recover.
Media contact: Charlton Clark, 0300 067 5049