Trust's fears over spread of ash tree disease

By Tim Clarke Thursday 01 November 2012 Updated: 08/11 13:33

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Buy photos » Threat - The county’s population of Brown Hairstreak butterflies could be put at risk by the loss of ash trees. Picture by Peter Smith.

WORCESTERSHIRE'S population of a rare species of butterfly could be put at risk if a fungus which kills ash trees reaches the county's woodlands.

The Worcestershire Wildlife Trust (WWT) believes the spread of the devastating ash dieback would have a major impact on the county's wildlife, including its colony of brown hairstreak butterflies.

Tens of thousands of trees are being felled and burned in Norfolk and Suffolk where cases of the disease have been found and the Government has also banned ash imports in a bid to halt its spread across the rest of the UK.

Conservation staff and volunteers from the WWT are closely monitoring Worcestershire's ash-rich woodlands amid growing fears the disease could eventually reach the county.

Among the WWT's biggest concerns is the impact the loss of ash trees could have on the Midlands' only colony of brown hairstreak butterflies, which are considered a rare species in the UK.

The population of brown hairstreaks has been rising in the county and in particular the Forest of Feckenham but the species tends to thrive around ash trees.

A WWT spokeswoman said: "Ash in Worcestershire’s woodlands provides really important habitat so the loss of these trees would have a huge impact from a wildlife point of view.

"These butterflies are quite rare and we are lucky to have them in the county. We have been working with butterfly conservation to help try and expand their range and numbers and we have been doing really well. But ash trees are really important to them so if they started to die in the county it could see all that hard work dwindling away."

"Varied woodlands are fantastic because they can support a greater diversity of species so if a woodland in Worcestershire lost its ash trees the average person walking through might not notice an immense difference to the eye, but it would make a big difference to wildlife."

David Dench, WWT head of conservation, said it was urging its members and supporters to report potential sightings of infected trees, in the hope the ecological impacts of the disease could be minimised.

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