A FORESTRY expert has warned that the deadly Ash Dieback disease sweeping the UK is having a devastating impact on the local landscape, and is currently hitting Warminster and Westbury.

The serious fungal disease of ash trees, caused by a fungus called Hymenoscyphus Fraxineus or Chalara, has already been spotted on young saplings along Bradley Road in Warminster and now it is advancing on the area around Dilton Marsh.

Jim McConkie, head forester at the Longleat Estate, said: “It is certainly beginning to take hold now, especially to the west towards Cheddar. It is advancing around Dilton Marsh, with totally dead trees in nearby areas.

“It will become very noticeable come next summer. What a shame to be loosing a native tree in such large numbers so quickly.

“A positive is that the planting of new and different species of trees will give a chance of greater bio-diversity.

“Ash has been in our evolution since time began. Think of how many tool handles and cart wheels have been made from it!”

Wiltshire Highways are surveying county-wide to identify trees that pose the most significant risk, and a management plan is being created to remove these risks.

Ash dieback began in Asia about 30 years ago and was first recorded in the UK in 2012. There is no cure or treatment for the disease and over time infected trees will weaken, causing branches to fall and trees to eventually collapse and die.

Clare Hancock, of Sustainable Warminster, said: “It will change the landscape forever and threaten many species which rely on ash.

"There will be a great loss of its environmental services such as air purification.

“Ash and all trees capture C02 from the atmosphere – so trees are crucial for counteracting climate change.

“Infection can lead to the death of young trees in just two to three years and of mature trees within three to five years.

“Some mature ash trees show a degree of resistance to the infection however, but there is a significant risk to young saplings. Some trees will fight back, but year-on-year infections will eventually kill it.

“With this disease spreading throughout the UK, the landscape as we know it in every parish and town will change significantly over the next few years sadly, with councils and landowners removing diseased trees for safety reasons."

“This will have a devastating impact on the landscape and woodlands. There are some examples of saplings with early signs of disease on Bradley Road, Warminster.”

Mrs Hancock added: “The general approach is not the same with Dutch Elm disease where all the Dutch Elms were felled, diseased or not, to prevent the spread. “There are some ash trees that are showing resistance and others are resilient, and whilst it’s important to remove trees which are dying and show disease, it’s important to get an expert opinion if it is suspected in a tree.

“Ash Dieback presents significant health and safety risks to the public, especially along roads, public rights of way and woodland areas used by the public, from suddenly falling branches. This increases liability for the legal tree owner.”

Shee said that infected trees growing on Wiltshire Council or Highways maintained land would be dealt with by the relevant authorities as quickly as possible.

“Any ash trees that are a safe distance away from public rights of way, roads, parking areas and open spaces that would not affect the public if they fell over, can be left to decay in situ, made safe or removed at a later date.

“Any ash trees infected with Ash Dieback should be removed by a qualified, fully insured and professional arboriculturalist who is fully trained to work with dead or dying trees, with machinery appropriate for safe working practices and best industry guidance. A full risk assessment should be carried out prior to any works being undertaken.

“Every landowner has a duty of care to ensure their trees within their curtilage are in a safe and reasonable condition.

“Any infected ash trees within falling distance of roads, buildings and open spaces must be accessed by a professional arboriculturalist.

“Steps must be taken to ensure public safety is the top priority. It is the legal responsibility of the landowner to meet all costs of tree removal if trees are on private land.”

Cllr Bridget Wayman, cabinet member for highways, said: “We are managing ash dieback within our existing budget and continually reviewing the situation. “We regularly carry out safety checks and work on the trees we are responsible for to keep people and property as safe as possible, and are responding to any ash dieback issues as part of this work.

“We are also working closely with private landowners and estates to support them where they have trees affected by ash dieback that are adjacent to the highway and other areas where the public has access”