A CUMBRIAN MP has called for the county to take the national lead in protecting ash trees from a disease which has destroyed populations across mainland Europe.

Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border, called a meeting of the constituency’s forestry and woodlands ‘think-tank’ to discuss the issue, which has already seen hundreds of infected sites across the UK.

Representatives from groups such as the National Trust, Natural England and LDNPA attended the meeting, and Mr Stewart has also written to the Secretary of State of DEFRA, Owen Paterson, proposing Cumbria’s pilot.

The local MP said: “We are in a unique situation here in Cumbria to take the lead in this issue. We find ourselves in an isolated geographical position, with few reported cases of the disease and a significant distance from the current epicentre of the infection down in the south east of England.

“Cumbria is the ideal location for a national test case pilot which would aim to record instances of ash outbreak, eliminate infected trees, create a clean area, and do all we can to delay arrival of the disease."

He added that he aimed to meet with Mr Paterson soon to ensure the project was up and running in time for next spring.