Could Britain lose the iconic oak?

A serious lack of Government research funds to fight a new disease is creating mounting concern amongst tree and forestry organisations, as the number of cases of trees affected grows. 

* LATEST NEWS (20th May 2010) The latest update and guidance note from  Forest Research on Acute Oak Decline is here *

 The sector is united in its concern across foresters, conservationists, arboriculturalists about the impact that Acute Oak Decline (AOD) can have on the UK’s best loved species. Britain’s landscape could change forever as urgent action is called for to fund vital research into the new disease facing the mighty oak tree. Pathologists and senior plant health officials from Forest Research, the Forestry Commission’s research body, spoke at a recent conference about the disease – the effects are shown in the picture below. 

Caused by a bacterial infection, AOD affects both species of native oaks, pedunculate and sessile oaks. The tree shows signs of bleeding on its stems and areas of dead bark appear, followed by rapid die back and death, often within a three to five year period.

The bleeding sores of AOD - this disease has the potential to change our landscape dramatically

AOD has the capacity to be a major threat to the UK’s oak woods, both ancient and secondary and could change our landscape even more than Dutch Elm Disease. The impact of the loss of an iconic tree both from our countryside and from towns would be catastrophic.

A new incoming government must urgently give Forest Research through Defra the resources it needs to undertake this work. Excellent research into acute oak decline is already taking place, despite a severe shortage of cash and the results of an application to Defra for funds to support a co-ordinated approach on tree diseases will not be known until 2011. The disease is still at an early stage – we need urgent action on research and guidance for the oak to stand a chance. 

In the meantime, forest owners and managers are concerned that there is little understanding of how the disease spreads and therefore of how best to control it. There are now 55 cases of the disease confirmed at sites in the East of England, Southern England and the Midlands, with a steadily growing number of suspect sites still to be confirmed. 

We need to get awareness out there about this disease to support the current research that is taking place – and also to turn around the lack of engagement there appears to be with this very real threat, so further funds via Defra are forthcoming. 

Have you come across AOD? Please look at the FC web site and see whether the symptoms you have seen look like the bleeding cankers shownIf so then contact:

 Please watch out for your local oaks, and please do help us raise awareness by sharing this far and wide using the bookmark below: 


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About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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