Three-year fight starts to rid island of larch disease

A stretch of trees in Kilpatrick Forest where there are diseased larch trees.

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By Hugh Boag

It will take more than three years to clear the thousands of larch trees on Arran which have been hit by an outbreak of a fatal tree disease.

Work is likely to start this week at Kilpatrick on the west coast on the felling of trees infected by phytophthora ramorum which has been present in the rhododenrons in the grounds of Brodick Castle for eight years, but at quite a low level, according to Andy Walker of the Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) team on Arran.

He told a Zoom meeting of the Arran Community Council last week that, while the disease can infect a range of host species, it causes particularly damaging infections on larch trees.

As reported in the Banner last month, a large scale clearance of around 440,000 trees will lead to substantial changes in well-loved landscapes on the island.

Mr Walker told the community council that the infected areas stretched across the island from Kings Cross to Dyemill and Brodick to Glenashdale.

Putting it into context, he said the FLS annually cuts down 250,000 trees in its usual harvesting programme – four to five per cent of all the trees on Arran.

He said the work should be have complete by February of next year but because of the scale of the problem the Arran FLS team had been given an extra three years to do it. He said they would  be substituting spruce for larch when replanting.

The felled trees, he said, would be harvested in the normal way, and sold to existing markets on the mainland and for chipping by Arran Energy.

Mr Walker was asked about the ability of the disease to ‘species jump’ since it had originally been found on rhododendron on Arran.

He said there had been a couple of cases of sitka spruce being infected, but it had not happened on a large scale. He said the disease was originally an oak disease in North America.

He accepted that some of the larch to be felled were quite young, at around eight years, but said no larch had been planted on the island in the last five years.

The public have been asked to help as the spores that spread the disease can be carried to other sites in mud and forest debris.

They are being asked to follow the forestry  Keep it Clean advice and take a few minutes to brush or wipe off boots, bike wheels, tent pegs and even  dogs’ paws before and after a visit to any woodland in the area.

However, Mr Walker said there were no plans to install footbaths or close any forest paths as he said the disease was primarily wind borne.

He added they would be seeking any further advice they needed from the likes of Dumfries and Galloway which had much wider problem with the disease.