AN AIRBORNE team has flown sorties over Staffordshire as part of wide-ranging measures to tackle the spread of a deadly disease of larch trees.
The Forestry Commission helicopter flights involved experts taking thousands of aerial images of local woodland to spot tell-tale signs of infection caused by a fungus-like pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum (P ramorum), which kills larch trees very quickly.
The lethal disease was first discovered on larch in the UK in 2009 in South West England and has since spread to many parts of western Britain.
Flights over Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire have found no obvious signs of infection of larch trees, but analysis continues and vigilance is vital.
Larch is an important tree in the region. It comprises about 6.7 per cent of all woodland in Herefordshire, 7.6 per cent in Shropshire, 4.7 per cent in Worcester- shire and 6.4 per cent in Staffordshire.
Ben Jones, Forestry Commission England’s plant health operations manager, said: “The helicopter covers large areas of ground quickly, giving us a good view of the forest canopy.
That means we can look for disease symptoms like dead tops and branch and shoot dieback with a dis- tinctive ginger colour, and other abnor- malities.
“By using cameras with built-in GPS, areas of concern can be pinpointed and ground teams sent in to carry out a detailed inspection. We started flights in 2010 and they have proved incredibly useful.”
Containment and early felling is important because infected larch trees produce huge numbers of the spores that spread the disease.
These can be spread some distance from tall trees by the wind and in mists, risking rapid spread of the infection to large numbers of other trees.
The survey will fly over most parts of the UK, from the south west of England to the Scottish Highlands, totting up around 20,000 miles.
Two films have also been produced to raise awareness. To see them go to the Forestry Commission website at www.forestry.gov.uk/phytophthorafilms.