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November 16, 2012 8:53 pm
The first outbreak of ash dieback has been confirmed in Northern Ireland, agriculture chiefs revealed on Friday night.
The deadly tree disease – caused by the Chalara fraxinea fungus – has already been confirmed in 115 sites in a Defra survey that covered 92 per cent of England and all of Wales and Scotland.
The fungus was identified in imported young saplings at five sites in Co Down and Co Antrim. Statutory notices have been served on owners of the plantations requiring the destruction of about 5,000 affected ash saplings. Other sites are also being investigated as part of an continuing surveillance programme.
Since first infection was found in a nursery in Buckinghamshire in February, the disease has spread rapidly, and growers have had to destroy 100,000 trees.
Earlier this month, a nursery in Lincolnshire which was forced to destroy 50,000 ash trees said it was taking legal action against the government. This led the Horticultural Trades Association to encourage its members to sue the government for the loss of revenue over the disease.
Michelle O’Neill, the Northern Ireland minister for agricultural and rural development, said agriculture officials in the Irish Republic had been alerted about the outbreak.
“Legislation was introduced north and south last month banning the import and movement of ash plants for planting from infected areas,” she said.
Land owned by the National Trust at Runkerry, close to the Giant’s Causeway on the North Antrim coast, is believed to be one of the affected areas.
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