Alert on fungus after sudden oak deaths

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Garden centres and plant nurseries in Britain are being put on alert over a killer fungus threatening thousands of oak trees, rhododendrons and viburnum. Officials at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have begun a foot-and-mouth type of operation to identify and destroy infected plants before Sudden Oak Death disease sweeps across Britain.

Garden centres and plant nurseries in Britain are being put on alert over a killer fungus threatening thousands of oak trees, rhododendrons and viburnum. Officials at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have begun a foot-and-mouth type of operation to identify and destroy infected plants before Sudden Oak Death disease sweeps across Britain.

The disease, which is caused by a microscopic growth called Phytophthora ramorum, has destroyed hundreds of oak trees in California. Eighty inspectors in Britain have been told to make spot checks at plant centres.

Infected plants will be immediately destroyed and cordons are to be imposed at infected nurseries to stop the disease spreading. Woods and the surrounding countryside will also be thoroughly searched by inspectors for infected plants. Defra has made combating Sudden Oak Death disease a priority and has diverted funds to detecting and killing plants that have contracted the disease. One hundred and fifty plants have been destroyed and inspectors fear they will find many more in domestic and wild populations.

Defra is preparing an information campaign for gardeners who will be told in the summer, when symptoms are most pronounced, how to identify infected plants. In rhododendron, twigs develop brown to black discoloration and the leaves have dark-brown blotches.

The European strain of the disease is believed to have spread from plants imported from the Netherlands and Germany.

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