The View from Northern Ireland: Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has confirmed an increase in the number of new cases of disease amongst larch trees in Northern Ireland.

Further infection by the disease known as P. ramorum, caused by the fungal pathogen Phytophthora ramorum has been identified in counties Antrim, Down and south Armagh and subsequent testing has confirmed that the disease has spread as far westward as Fermanagh.

In a statement, the minister said: “It is a matter of real concern that larch trees across the north have been badly affected by Ramorum disease. We will continue to fell trees where it is sensible to slow down the spread of this disease and to protect important plant collections and conservation sites. I have instructed officials to put plans in place to maximise the use of larch timber arising from the need to fell affected trees.

“Unfortunately, once the disease is well established in the woodland environment it is impossible to eradicate, and as is the case in south west Scotland, we are close to that point in the north of Ireland. Therefore, I have decided to re-evaluate our policy options so that we can prioritise the use of our resources in the most effective way across all plant diseases.”

According to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), although the unintended spread of Ramorum by people and vehicles can occur it is likely that the rapid expansion of the disease is as a result of a combination of factors including exceptionally wet and windy conditions over the summer of 2011, which promotes disease spread and may also reflect the genetic characteristics of Ramorum disease found in the north of Ireland.

The Minister added: “Our forests very much remain open and visitors are extremely welcome but I would ask members of the public to be aware of and observe bio-security guidance. Visitors can reduce the risk of spread of the disease by taking simple steps to remove mud from their boots and shoes, clothing or bicycle tyres before and after their visit.”

Further information about Ramorum disease of larch is available from DARD here.

Image Shutterstock