Huge effort to save larch

Land managers are stepping up their fight against the larch killing disease Phytophthora ramorum, by creating breaks in the forests. The disease risk is greatest in west of Scotland.

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Forestry and Land Scotland is to step up its efforts to manage the larch killing disease Phytophthora ramorum in a bid to get on the front foot in slowing the spread of the disease.

First confirmed in Scotland in 2010, the fungus-like pathogen can affect Japanese, European and hybrid larch and over the past ten years, control measures have involved felling millions of trees across the country. Not acting would have made the impact of the disease considerably worse.

Planning more pre-emptive felling in key areas before the disease strikes will help to create breaks in the pathogen’s path – much like fire-breaks aim to slow wildfire moving across the landscape

Graeme Prest, director of land management and regions at Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), said: ‘With no known cure and eradication of the disease considered to be unachievable, the only available counter measure is to slow the pathogen’s spread by felling.

‘Previously, we have been waiting until the disease arrives at a location and then have responded to the Statutory Plant Health Notice that requires us to fell infected and ‘at-risk’ trees in the vicinity by a set date.

‘But a reactive approach puts a fairly hefty spanner in the works of our normal work programmes. We have to stop planned harvesting works, move people and machinery, deal with the diseased crop, and also re-plan the work that we would normally have been doing.

‘This new approach allows us to get more on the front foot and build disease management in to our annual felling programmes, making the effort to tackle the disease more cost efficient, manageable and sustainable.’

From its locus in south west Scotland, the disease has spread aggressively up the west coast of the country, where FLS land can be steep, rocky and often difficult to access.

The disease risk is greatest in west of Scotland, and although present elsewhere, the level of risk steadily diminishes towards the east of the country.

Graeme added: ‘We will plant a variety of species to replace the larch that are felled to minimise as much as we can the impact of their loss in the landscape. It is all part of the process of adapting the forests to be more resilient for the increasing threats from pests and diseases and climate change.’

In south west Scotland, FLS aims to remove all larch on the land it manages by 2032. In the next most vulnerable zone the target is at least 50 per cent, the next again at least 20 per cent.

In the more northern and eastern parts of Scotland, where it is hoped that there is a long term future for larch , the intention is to only fell larch if it is due for felling or if they become infected.