In order to slow the spread of a lethal tree disease, hundreds of thousands of larches are to be felled on the Isle of Arran.
Phytophthora ramorum is a fungal pathogen that spreads via the development of spores and has had its greatest effect on larches in southwest Scotland, where infection and spread is considered to be favorable to the weather.
The pathogen was first identified in 2002 in Scotland and there is no known cure. Cutting down the infected trees and trees in their vicinity is the only way to slow the rate of spread.
Mud or needles sticking to shoes and bicycle tires, buggies, machinery and vehicles may spread Phytophthora ramorum.
Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) advises the public to ensure that before and after entering a forest, shoes, bicycles, appliances and the paws of dogs are still clean.
In the south and west of Scotland, Arran is one of several places where levels of infection have risen this year.
On Arran, nearly half a million trees are to be removed, which will entail “significant changes to some popular landscapes.”
The work is expected to begin next month and will take several years to finish.
But it’s not about Arran alone.
In order to track the spread of Phytophthora ramorum, Scottish Forestry, the forestry regulator in Scotland, conducts helicopter surveys and related field surveys of larch every two years.
Approximately 80 suspicious sites will be felled and closed in 2020-2021 in Cowal, a peninsula in Argyll and Bute that stretches into the Firth of Clyde, to eradicate infested trees and minimize the risk of spreading to other forests in Cowal and elsewhere in Argyll.
In Corlarach Forest, Benmore Forest, Puck’s Glen and Kilmun Arboretum, the felling work means that some areas and paths will be closed to the public for safety purposes.
FLS said it is working on plans to replant the cleared areas as much as possible to will the visual effects.
In total, about 220 acres of larch trees will be cut to tackle the disease in Arran.
The trees are cut under a licence, and after felling, the timber can still be processed for uses such as woodchips.
Andy Walker, of FLS, said, “This is a terrible disease that can not be eradicated and for which there is no known cure. Cutting down the affected larch trees is the only way to slow the spread.”
“It’s going to cause significant changes in some popular landscapes over the next few years, but if we don’t do that, the long-term effects will be worse.”
He said that by wiping mud off boots, bike wheels and dog paws before and after visits to the forest, Arran residents and visitors could help avoid the spread of the spores. On its website, FLS has more advice.
Scottish Forestry’s regulatory agency has been working with FLS to fight the disease.
“Sasha Laing of the organization added: “The position and size of the infections on Arran led us to establish our local regulatory strategy to achieve the best results in the coming years in the control of the disease.
“The approach we’ve taken takes into account Arran’s unique landscape and the forest sector’s ability to deliver these outcomes.”