The Manx Wildlife Trust has raised concerns over the impact on native woodland creatures of a massive tree felling programme.
All the larch trees in the island’s plantations are being cut down as part of a blitz to combat the spread of phytophthora ramorum, also known as sudden oak death disease.
Larch makes up a fifth of all the trees in the government-owned plantations.
Around 400 hectares - about 700 acres – of larch will be felled over the next three to four years in an operation designed to stop the disease spreading to our upland areas, where it could devastate heather and blaeberry, and also to private gardens. And this means that large tracts of Manx countryside will be completely transformed.
The Manx Wildlife Trust has been in close contact with the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture over the tree felling programme.
Duncan Bridges from the Trust says the impact will be felt not so much on birdlife but on smaller creatures such as the stoat.
He said: ‘For the most part they don’t have special protection under the law but obviously there is disturbance. The biggest concern is whether there are any populations of species such as our native stoat which may be resident in one or two of those plantations.’
Environment Minister Phil Gawne, who met with the Wildlife Trust in mid-April, said his department recognised the concerns over the impact on wildlife - but a bigger concern was the risk of phytophthora ramorum spreading.
He told the Manx Independent: ‘We are aware of the concerns about nesting birds and other concerns raised by the Wildlife Trust.
‘But our much bigger concern is what happens if phytophthora ramorum jumps species which is entirely possible. If would be incredibly destructive if it spread from larch to spruce or to the upland areas.’
Mr Gawne said the upland areas were important wildlife habitats in their own right but their destruction would lead to other problems, too, in terms of run-off polluting water courses. ‘There would be a significant cost to the taxpayers,’ he said.
He added: ‘We are committed to do out best to avoid any problems in relation to wildlife but we have to be acutely aware of the need to get as many of these trees down as quickly as we can.’
The Minister said his department only had a budget to control the disease, not a budget to replant the areas afterwards.
A giant mulching machine, brought over by a specialist UK contractor in January, has finished work for now. New contracts are being finalised with local firms, said Mr Gawne.