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Lake District killer tree fungus alert
A VIRULENT killer fungus has attacked dozens of trees in the Lake District and could destroy hundreds more.
It is the first time Phytophthora austrocedrae has been found in Cumbria, having only entered England in 2011.
The deadly tree disease, which targets junipers, orig-inates from South America.
Signs the evergreen tree is affected by the micro-organism include foilage turning from green into browns, reds and oranges – similar to autumnal colours.
Above ground symptoms also include dieback of the foilage along with stem and collar lesions.
“Potentially it could be horrendous," said National Trust wildlife and countryside adviser John Hooson.
“We don't really know to what extent this disease is going to affect Cumbria. It could be major or it could minor but there is nothing we can really do about it at the moment.”
Walkers are advised to keep to marked footpaths in contaminated areas including Landgale, Duddon Valley, Grasmere and the Ullswater areas.
Signs have been placed in infected areas warning people about the disease.
The signs also advise that people do not take plant cuttings, keep dogs on leads at all times and for walkers to clean footwear after visits to an infected area.
“It is not really understood at the moment,” said Mr Hooson. “That is why we would discourage people from trampling round the diseased areas"
Mr Hooson added that it was possible that all junipers, one of only three British native conifers, could be wiped out in Cumbria.
“Anybody interested in our landscape should be concerned,” said Mr Hooson.
“Juniper is an especially important component of the local landscape – there are really nice stands of them in Cumbria. It’s a special feature to the Lakes.”
Other trees that could be affected by the fungus are Lawson cypress and Nootka cypress.
According to the Forestry Commission the disease has already caused a ‘a lethal dec-line’ of juniper trees in Teesdale.
The fungus does not affect humans.
Anyone who suspects they have seen symptoms of P. austrocedrae infection is asked to report it to the Fera Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate by calling 01904 465625.