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wild wales: Oak apocalypse; Alun Prichard on the threat to millions of trees in Wales.

Byline: Alun Prichard

OVER one million people starved to death and a further million were forced to flee for their lives when the potato blight attacked Ireland in the 19th century.

Thankfully, such human devastation is consigned to history, but a relative of the potato blight is again casting the shadow of death.

Sudden Oak Death (Phytophthora Ramorum) and the even worse Phytophthora Kernovii have been discovered in the UK and are believed to be capable of killing up to 350 million of Britain's trees.

Dutch Elm Disease killed less than a tenth of that figure in the 1970s. First discovered in America in 1995, Sudden Oak Death has now killed 80% of California's American oaks.

In the last two years since Sudden Oak Death was first found in the UK, there have been 370 cases of the disease, which despite its name is a danger to oak, beech, horsechestnut, sweet chestnut and many shrubs. Scientists hope the tougher bark of our species could be a defence.

``But we have found another much nastier disease - Phytophthora Kernovii - in Cornwall, '' said Defra spokesperson Jean Train. ``It has also been found in South Wales and in a nursery in Cheshire. ''

Wales is particularly at threat from these destructive diseases as they tend to use wild rhododendron, which Wales has millions of, as vectors to get to the trees. .

Once Ramorum infects a tree it appears to ``bleed'' to death as red sap spills and runs down the trunk killing the tree in months. Kernovii has the same effect, only killing its host much quicker. The advice from Defra and the Forestry Commission is to keep an eye out for the disease, especially in woods that have many rhododendron. If anyone notices rhododendron suddenly dying in numbers or dark blistering cankers appearing on nearby trees they should report it to Defra or the Forestry Commission.

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Sudden Oak Death and Phytophthora Kernovii are believed to be capable of killing up to 350m of Britain's trees
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 18, 2004
Words:333
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