Forestry workers take a chopper to help save trees

HELICOPTER flights have taken place across Northumberland to spot early signs of tree disease.

Teams from the Forestry Commission have been taking hundreds of aerial images of local woodland in the search for a deadly infection in larch trees.

The fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora ramorum kills trees quickly and was first discovered in the UK in 2009 in the South West. It has spread to other areas, but so far no sites have been confirmed in the North East.

Forestry Commission England Plant Health Operations Manager Ben Jones said: “Containment and early felling is important because infected larch trees produce huge numbers of the spores that spread the disease. These can be spread some distance from tall trees by the wind and in mists, risking rapid spread of the infection to large numbers of other trees.

“The helicopter covers large areas of ground quickly, giving us a good view of the forest canopy. This means we can look for disease symptoms like dead tops and branch-and-shoot dieback with a distinctive ginger colour, as well as any other abnormalities.

“Using cameras with built-in GPS, areas of concern can be pin-pointed and ground teams sent in to carry out a detailed inspection. We started flights in 2010 and they have proved incredibly useful.”

Larch makes up 4.4 per cent of Northumberland’s woodland cover.