Farm Ireland

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Forest owners on alert for Sitka spruce disease

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Forestry owners have been put on high alert after the world's first case of Sudden Oak Death in Sitka spruce was confirmed in Ireland by the Department of Agriculture on Friday.

Sitka spruce accounts for 52pc of the standing forest in Ireland and up to 90pc of the saw mill intake in this country.

The infected young tree was approximately two metres in height and was growing in close proximity and underneath the canopy of a large infected rhododendron bush.

Officials have not disclosed the location of the infected Sitka spruce.

This is the first field record worldwide of the fungus-like organism Phytophtera ramorum infection in Sitka spruce, although the species had been found to be susceptible in international laboratory trials.

The area around the infected Sitka spruce has been effectively quarantined and monitoring will continue, officials confirmed.

The discovery of the disease in Sitka spruce shows a major development in the evolution of the disease, which until last year was only found in wild invasive rhododendron shrubs.

However in July 2010, Forest Service officials found the disease in 11 forests in counties Tipperary, Cork, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wicklow.

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Noble fir, beech and Spanish chestnut growing in close proximity to the infected Japanese larch were also been found to be infected and 125ha of forest was felled around the 11 Japanese larch outbreaks to contain the disease.


Spruce in the immediate area of all the Japanese larch outbreak sites have been surveyed and no further Phytophtera ramorum infections have been found.

While Department of Agriculture officials insist most of the wood from infected trees can be utilised and sold in the normal way, foresters are concerned about the potential economic cost of outbreak of the disease in the country's most popular timber species.

IFA forestry chairman Pat Hennessey said the discovery of the infected Sitka spruce could have serious repercussions for Ireland's timber industry.

The forestry industry, including growing, harvesting and processing is estimated to be worth around €1.89bn to the economy.

He urged forest owners to be on high alert for any signs of the disease in larch or other species.

"People need to be vigilant and if they see any signs of trees dying back, call in a forester who can identify the disease," Mr Hennessey warned.

"If you have any suspicions, do not remove dead branches from the area because that could spread the disease," he added. "Get an expert in as soon as possible."

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