Epping Forest trees at risk from killer disease

Beech trees up to 1,000 years old could be wiped out

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Epping Forest trees at risk from killer disease

Some of Epping Forest's oldest trees are in danger of being wiped out after a killer disease infected local shrubs.

A report by the Standard says that phytophthora ramorum, sometimes known as sudden oak death, has been found in rhododendron and larch trees at the Warren Plantation in the north of the forest, between Waltham Abbey and Epping.

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According to Wikipedia, symptoms of the disease include bleeding cankers on the tree's trunk and dieback of the foliage, in many cases eventually leading to the death of the tree.

The Forestry Commission explains: "The generic name for the disease it causes is Ramorum disease. The disease is known in the USA as 'sudden oak death' because different strains of the pathogen cause disease and mortality among North American native oak and tanoak species.

"However, the strains of P. ramorum found in Britain have had little effect on British native oak species. It is sometimes referred to in Britain as 'Larch tree disease' and 'Japanese larch disease' because larch trees are particularly susceptible, and large numbers have been affected.

"The first UK finding was made on viburnum in February 2002 at a garden centre in Sussex. The first record of P. ramorum on a mature tree in the UK was on a 100-year-old southern red oak in November 2003."

Speaking to the Standard, Dr Jeremy Dagley, head of conservation at Epping Forest, said the discovery was unexpected as the nearest known locality of the disease was at least 50km away and the main outbreak has been in the western third of the UK.

He added: "This disease is spread by several host shrubs and trees with the best known and most widespread being rhododendron.

"The most prolific infective host species is larch. Both of these species are present within Epping Forest."

Dr Dagley has suggested a complete clearance of larch and rhododendron from the forest in a bid to stop the disease from spreading and to save the forests' beeches, some of which are at least 1,000 years old.

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