Battle against killer fungi

A battle to stop a deadly plant disease spreading through historic gardens, woodland and health has been stepped up through a �25m injection of government funding.

A battle to stop a deadly plant disease spreading through historic gardens, woodland and health has been stepped up through a �25m injection of government funding.

Outbreaks of the killer fungi have already been recorded at more than 700 locations around the country including 11 in Norfolk, six in Suffolk and eight in Cambridgeshire.

It affects rhododendron - which is a major carrier - and viburnum, as well as camellia, yew and bay laurel, but has also spread to trees including oak, beech and horse chestnut.

Phytophthora ramorum and kernoviae, previously know for killing millions of trees in the United States and New Zealand, were first detected in the UK seven years ago.


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Now environment minister Jane Kennedy has announced �25m worth of funding for a five year programme to manage and contain the risks, raise awareness and do more research.

She said the lethal diseases were “having a detrimental effect in pristine locations” which could impact on tourism and lifestyles.

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Defra was tackling problems in the New Forest, West Country and Cannock Chase - tourist areas that could face a drop in visitor numbers if the government did not act now.

“If this disease spreads it could mean parts of the countryside being cordoned off,” she added. It would reduce public access to the countryside and see the loss of precious woodland.

All the East Anglian case involve retailers and nurseries rather than gardens and woodland. And National Trust regional communications officer Claire Graves confirmed there were no outbreaks in their properties.

However its gardeners, including at locations such as Sheringham Park - famed for the rhododendrons in its woodlands - were being vigilant and the trust welcomed the government help in trying to stop the spread.

Under new control measures nurseries now get regular inspections while surveys are also checking parks, gardens and woodlands, while imported plants are also monitored for the disease and given plant passports.

There is no known fungicidal treatment which will cure the problem - so control is down to destroying infected plants, as well susceptible ones close by.

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