TREE experts across Wigan are fearful of any signs of a new killer disease that is spreading across woodland in the country.
Council specialists say that they have been on alert for weeks after it was officially determined that the virus chalara fraxinea had now crossed the channel with the first instances recorded in woodland in East Anglia.
The condition, which starts with a premature browning of leaves, causes a fatal die back of elm trees.
Scientists are warning that if it is allowed to take hold it could become as massive a threat to English forests as Dutch Elm Disease proved in the 70s and 80s.
Council director of economy Steve Normington revealed today that currently there have been no confirmed cases of the disease in the borough.
He said: “We are monitoring the situation and are in close contact with our colleagues in the Plant Health Department of the Forestry Commission.
“Wigan Council has been a major contributor to the national plant health strategy for urban trees and this has put us in a more robust position to help deal with a situation if it does arise.
“The recent outbreaks have been in areas where newly planted Ash trees have been imported from the continent contaminated with the disease.
“This disease can spread through infected seeds and it may have been present for many years before it was identified, which means the risk of infestation is high.
“As with many other areas therefore, we cannot be certain to what extent Wigan Borough will be affected.”
The Forestry Commission has declared a “national emergency” following biological confirmation of the disease at two separate sites near Norfolk.
Responding to the outbreak, the government today said it will bring in a ban on ash imports and tight restrictions on ash movements within Britain later today (Monday).
The Chalara fraxinea fungus, which causes leaf loss and crown dieback and can lead to tree death, wiped out 90 per cent of ash trees in Denmark in seven years. It had previously been identified in nurseries along with newly planted sites including a car park, a college campus and a new woodland.
Forestry Commission chiefs have announced that the fungus is being treated as a quarantine pest under national emergency measures.
They are now urging walkers and members of the public who find any suspicious signs on Elm trees to report them immediately.