Fifth of Manx forests to be felled to prevent spread of disease

Ballaugh Plantation is being cleared of larch trees

Ballaugh Plantation is being cleared of larch trees

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All the larch trees in the island’s plantations are to be cut down in a new blitz to combat the spread of a destructive disease.

A specialist UK contractor has been brought in to speed up the felling of larches that make up some 20 per cent of government-owned forests.

Environment Minister Phil Gawne said the latest blitz would begin this week in Tholt-y-Will and would continue over the next two years.

He said the operation was vital to stop the spread of phytophthora ramorum, also known as sudden oak death, to upland areas where it could devastate heather and blaeberry.

Mr Gawne told the Examiner that after the operation was complete ‘the island will look quite different - areas where this is happening may not look very attractive for a time.’

In a statement, his department said it had engaged a UK contractor with specialist equipment and the necessary experience to increase the speed of felling areas of infected larch in the forest estate.

Existing timber harvesting, by local contractors, of infected and non-infected material will continue, providing material for processing and marketing through the department’s sawmill, so customers should not be significantly inconvenienced by these measures.

Addition felling was due to start today (Monday) with Tholt-y-Will identified as the first area and then probably Anxfell Plantation.

Selection of the next working areas will be decided as the current work site nears completion and assessed to maximise disease control.

The work will involve a combination of whole tree mulching - where the tree is mulched from the top down while standing – and tree shearing – where the whole tree is cut at its base ready for processing and removal from the site.

DEFA said from this is the minimal requirement from a disease management perspective.

Processing of the felled timber for subsequent use can be carried out later but will require the removal of all bark, heat treatment or peeling followed by tanalisation.

All forests will remain open to the public, with the exception of areas where felling operations are ongoing, when certain areas or the whole forest will be closed.

The public are being urged to adhere to some simple biosecurity measures such as cleaning footwear, tyres and wheels on leaving an area but definitely before visiting a new woodland/forest or upland area.

Forty per cent of the island’s population of larch trees has been infected by disease, the forestry division confirmed in August.

By that time ome 200 hectares (about 500 acres) of larch trees had been felled due to phytophthora ramorum.

Sudden oak death is one of two diseases affecting the island’s trees – the other being Dutch elm disease. DEFA remains vigilant to the threat of a third, ash dieback.

A spokesman said the continual fight against disease has meant much of the recently harvested timber has not been suitable for some important markets, such as retail and wholesale firewood. ‘The department has made available heat treated wood and is actively harvesting non-infected spruce timber to ensure a supply to customers,’ it added.

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