Two million trees felled as black pine needle blight spreads

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A tree species once hailed as a weapon against global warming is under threat from a fatal disease blamed on the very climate changes it was hoped it would help protect us against.

Two million Corsican pines have already been destroyed in an effort to halt red band needle blight. There are also fears for Britain's Christmas tree harvest, which faces a massive cull if the infection spreads to lodgepole pine.

The Corsican, or black, pine – an immigrant that grows to around 45 metres and is particularly valued by the timber industry because of its straight trunk – now makes up one fifth of plantations in Britain, covering 34,000 hectares. It has been adopted as one of the great hopes for British planters because its hardy Mediterranean roots make it more resistant to hot weather than local species.

The blight thrived in the damp conditions this summer – for which global warming is also being blamed because it is predicted to bring less total rain but more summer downpours. The Forestry Commission is now thinning all its plantations to "dry out" the forests and stop the spread of blight, and further planting has been banned for five years.

In East Anglia, which has a large number of the pines in densely planted forests, it is thought up to 80 per cent are infected.

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