A DISEASE which is killing ash trees across the UK could soon become a public health hazard to homes, roads, and public buildings across west Wales, according to tree surgeons.

Ash Dieback is a fungal infection which is predicted to lead to the death of between 85% and 95% of ash trees in the UK.

Tree surgeon Jeff Birch, who manages a company working across west Wales, has said the disease has started to affect Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion badly, and that the amount of work and the cost of doing it will soon be untenable.

“Over the last two years Ash Dieback has really hit this area. It is much more noticeable now and I cannot get across just how serious this is. What is going on out there at the moment is so serious you would not believe,” said Jeff.

Western Telegraph:

Tree surgeon Jeff Birch has warned about the dangers Ash Dieback could cause.

What worries Jeff is that there are more ash trees infected by the disease than there is money or manpower available to take them down.

He added that as the infection spreads through each tree, they become more unstable, more likely to fall over, and less easy to remove.

“The potential of risk of injury or actually killing someone is on a mass scale,” he said.

“At the last stage of the disease, you are going to have to fell the tree whole or get in specialist equipment.”

On a short drive between Haverfordwest and Wiston, before making a loop back to the county town on the A40, Jeff could point out hundreds of ash trees on PCC-maintained verges affected by the disease.

Symptoms include lesions opening in the bark of the tree, exposing the wood underneath.

More noticeable is a thinning of leaf coverage, first on the upper branches of an ash tree, before the lower and larger branches start to lose their leaves too.

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Ash dieback causes the crown of the tree to lose its leaves.

Along roads around Pembrokeshire, many of the ash trees are starting to show signs of dieback, as the upper branches are bare, even during the height of summer.

“In the winter it was not noticeable at all, but now the leaves have grown again on the trees, you can spot the ash trees affected by dieback from a distance,” said Jeff.

There are approximately 90 million ash trees across the UK, and 60 million of these are outside of woodlands – including along roadside verges and in gardens.

A full-grown ash tree can weigh approximately 8 tonnes, and the cost of removing one can be between £500 and £1,000.

Along the A40 between Haverfordwest and St Clears, the South Wales Trunk Road Agency has begun marking infected ash with orange ribbons and spray paint to prepare to cut them.

While large government bodies like SWTRA have been able to set money aside to take action, others like Pembrokeshire County Council cannot, and residents will have to pay for the cost of removing unstable ash trees from their own land.

Western Telegraph:

Withered leaves and twigs are a sign of ash dieback.

The tree surgeon’s advice to people is simple: find out if they have ash trees in their garden, establish if it is infected, and find someone who is able to remove it safely with the proper equipment and insurance.

“People need to be made aware of exactly what is going on and how dangerous it could be,” said Jeff.

A spokesman for the South Wales Trunk Road Agency said: “Unfortunately, a significant number of ash trees along the A40 between Haverfordwest and St Clears have been infected by Ash dieback disease and have to be removed for safety reasons. This is one of several locations on the trunk road network where ash trees are being assessed for removal.

“As part of our ongoing management of this disease we are developing a tree replanting programme, providing a mix of tree species which is the most effective way to build resilience and restore ecological benefits.”

Western Telegraph:

Ash dieback disease. PICTURE: the Forestry Commission.

A PCC spokesman said: “The South Wales Trunk Road Agency has commissioned a specialist tree survey of all ash trees along the trunk road corridor in their area which comprises around 1,200km of highway.

“Affected trees are being marked and those on Welsh Government land will be felled/pruned as appropriate.

“Additional money has been made available to carry out this work.

“In contrast, the council maintains approximately 2,500km of highway, mainly in rural areas.

“For the authority to carry out a similar exercise would undoubtedly be both expensive and time-consuming.

“One of the challenges facing the council is likely to be identifying individual landowners in order to issue compliance notices as most of the trees alongside the council-managed road network are likely to be growing on privately-owned land.

“A strategy to address these issues is currently being worked on.

“Meanwhile officers have attended meetings with Welsh Government and other stakeholders to consider the Tree Council’s Ash Dieback toolkit and a working group has been established with colleagues from the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Carmarthen and Ceredigion county councils.”