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‘Catastrophic impact’: 30,000 trees to be felled in UK as climate change drives disease

At least 30,000 trees are expected to be cut down this winter, the National Trust has said, warning climate change is driving tree and plant disease.

Milder and wetter winters and warmer summers caused by global heating are creating ideal conditions for diseases and pests to spread, the trust said.

Pathogens like ash dieback, Phytophthora ramorum and acute oak decline could have an even bigger impact across the British landscape as the effects of climate change hit.

Trees’ natural defences are also more likely to be weakened by the stress of drought, flooding and high temperatures that they are facing on a more regular basis.

“This could have a catastrophic impact on our countryside and for nature, as homes for wildlife are depleted,” said John Deakin, the trust’s head of trees and woodland.

Between 75% and 95% of UK ash trees are forecast to be lost in the next 20 to 30 years.

Native trees also face a growing threat from powerful storms, with thousands coming down as Storm Arwen hit the UK late last month.

Trees themselves are an important tool in the fight against climate change, as they lock up carbon through photosynthesis, as does the surrounding soil and vegetation.

Mr Deakin said “many iconic and native species may disappear,” adding it was crucial to create landscapes and woodlands that are more resilient to the changing weather.

The conservation charity expects to spend £3m in the coming months to tackle ash dieback, up from £2m last year.

The trust is calling for donations for its Plant A Tree fundraising campaign to help it plant a diverse array of trees from more resilient species in the woodlands it manages to future-proof them against climate change.

Dr Keith Kirby, woodland ecologist at Oxford University, said news about disease and pests “brings home that we need to create woods that are resilient to stresses that we weren’t thinking about 10 or 20 years ago.

“Climate change will throw up new threats, new issues for us and we need to make sure our woods are likely to be able to respond to those threats, even though we don’t yet know what they are,” Dr Kirby added.

Watch the Daily Climate Show at 6.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.

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