THE deadly tree disease ash dieback has now been found in over 50 locations around Ireland.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney yesterday warned forest owners and farmers to be on alert for signs of the disease as trees come into leaf.
Private gardens, farms, horticultural nurseries and roadside plantings as well as forests have all been hit by the disease that is also know as chalara.
The first case in Ireland was only discovered in October in Leitrim, but it has now spread widely with over 50 cases reported in counties Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Galway, Kildare, Kilkenny, Leitrim, Longford, Meath, Tipperary and Waterford.
The disease can affect ash trees of any age and can be fatal for younger trees.
Mr Coveney said: "This disease is of serious concern as ash is one of Ireland's most important native trees."
He urged forest owners to attend meetings being held by Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture over coming weeks to brief them on the signs of chalara and steps to address it.
Signs of the disease include lesions and cankers on the bark, foliage wilt or brown/black discolouration, excessive side shoots along the main stem and brown/orange discolouration of the bark.
Chalara has been found in 36 forest plantations, 15 nurseries, 10 farms, eight roadside plantings, three garden centres and two private gardens.
Imports from other European countries are one of the big risk factors for the disease spreading, though wood, including firewood, can also carry it.
Ash dieback has spread like wildfire in Europe in the last few years, wiping out 90pc of Denmark's ash stocks, and conservation groups have warned it poses a serious threat to Ireland's forests.
Some 3pc of Irish forests are ash forests, but more have been planted in recent years and one in 10 trees planted last year was an ash. The GAA has been working with state forestry body Coillte and the Department of Agriculture to make Ireland self-sufficient in ash by 2017, but this could be scuppered if the disease spreads further.
Stringent restrictions have been placed on ash imports to try to halt the march of the disease and Coillte made 40,000 disease-free Irish ash planks available to hurley-makers last winter to try to overcome shortages.