Ash disease 'unstoppable' as it spreads to nearly every county
DEADLY ash dieback disease has spread to nearly every county in the country, sparking a warning it is now unstoppable.
The tree disease has been found in 120 locations nationwide and resulted in the felling of 1,300 acres of forest.
Efforts to contain it could also lead to higher price for hurleys as stringent restrictions on ash wood imports have resulted in prices for ash wood going up by 20pc, experts said.
And while hurley makers have absorbed the price rises so far, if the disease continues to force up the price of ash wood, the hike will eventually have to be passed on to consumers, said hurley maker Tony McAuliffe.
"Hurley makers have absorbed it so far, but if the price goes much higher, they will have to pass it on," he said.
Despite concerted official attempts to eradicate ash dieback, the number of cases has doubled in the last year and it has now been found in every county except Roscommon, Westmeath, Louth and Laois, figures obtained from the Department of Agriculture show.
The Native Woodland Trust warned that the disease has spread so widely for so long that it is now "unstoppable".
Its chairman Jim Lawlor said that because the first case of it discovered 18 months ago had been in ash plants imported three years earlier, the disease had a long time to spread before its discovery prompted action to try and eradicate it.
Ash dieback disease spread very rapidly and could infect trees within a 25-mile radius every year, which meant 120 cases could quickly cover the entire country, he said.
"The only hope for Irish ash trees is that some native varieties will have sufficient genetic resistance that they won't succumb to it," he said.
But Teagasc forestry expert Michael Somers said that the one hopeful sign was that nearly all cases of ash dieback, also known as chalara, have been in young trees rather than more established ones.
Official restrictions on ash imports related to the disease had led to prices for ash wood rising from around €9.50 or €10 per plank to €12, which could end up costing consumers, he said.
Ash has a very strong cultural place in Irish society as the wood for hurleys.
"This disease does highlight the need for a scientific approach to tree breeding and genetics to make sure we're planting the right varieties into the future," he said.
The Department of Agriculture said that emergency measures to curb the spread of disease and prevent imports of infected ash wood remained in place.
Some 540 hectares of forest land has been cleared of trees to prevent the spread of the disease.
"This figure includes areas cleared on a preventative basis where trees were found to be from the same batch as infected trees," it said.
There have been 47 confirmed cases in ash plantations, 17 in horticultural nurseries, and 46 in farm and roadside planting, with others in hedgerows, garden centres and private gardens.
Meanwhile, another tree-killer, Japanese Larch disease, has now been detected in 30 locations.
Gougane Barra forest park in Co Cork has been laid waste by the disease, as a major outbreak there has led to 16,000 trees being felled with the park to remain closed until summer.