Chestnut blight spreads from mainland Europe to U.K. for first time; Forestry Commission confirms outbreaks affecting sweet chestnut trees sourced from nursery in France

EDINBURGH, U.K. , March 19, 2012 (press release) – The Forestry Commission and The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) are working to eradicate outbreaks of a serious new disease affecting sweet chestnut trees in southern and central England.

Chestnut blight, caused by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica (C. parasitica), has been confirmed by Forestry Commission scientists in two small orchards of European sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) sourced from the same nursery in France. The sites in Warwickshire and East Sussex are the first findings in Britain, although the disease has spread throughout much of Europe since it was first discovered in Italy in the 1930s.

Dr John Morgan, Head of the Forestry Commission’s Plant Health Service, said,

“It is very disappointing to discover this disease has been introduced into these orchards in England. It represents a serious threat to our sweet chestnut woodlands, so we are taking steps to eradicate it before it spreads into woodland trees or other plantations.

”We are working with colleagues in Fera to investigate the source of the two confirmed outbreaks, and will follow up other importations of sweet chestnut trees from the same source. Surveys are being carried out in nearby sweet chestnut woodlands for the disease where these are at risk from infection.”

Martin Ward, Head of the Fera Policy Programme, said:

“This is a significant finding, the first of its type in the UK. We are working with the Forestry Commission and the devolved plant health authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to follow up certain consignments of sweet chestnut plants which have arrived from the supplying nursery in France.

“There is no reason to believe that diseased plants have been introduced intentionally, and we are liaising with our counterparts in France to investigate this situation.

“In the meantime we would ask growers to be observant for symptoms of sweet chestnut blight on imported plants, and to report any suspicion to the appropriate authorities. We will be considering whether any changes to the EU requirements on this disease are necessary as a result of this finding, and will pursue this with the European Commission.”

The Government recently launched the Tree Health & Plant Biosecurity Action Plan to ensure that the UK's defences against tree pests and diseases are as robust as possible.

Dr David Slawson, who is leading on the stakeholder engagement elements in this plan, added,

“Once again this news demonstrates the need for all of us involved in the supply and management of trees and woodland to be constantly vigilant for signs of pests and diseases in our trees, to take the greatest possible care when importing plants from abroad, and to take preventative ‘biosecurity’ measures when visiting or working in infected woodland.”

The UK companies which received the French plants, and the growers of the affected trees, are co-operating with the plant health authorities. Where infection is suspected or has been confirmed, Plant Health Notices are served requiring uprooting of the trees and burning on site in the effort to eradicate the disease.

A guide to recognising the disease and its symptoms on sweet chestnut is in preparation, and images of the disease symptoms can be seen at the website below. Reports of suspected sightings of chestnut blight can be made to the contacts below.

Further information about the disease is available from the Forestry Commission’s website at www.forestry.gov.uk/chestnutblight.


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