FORESTRY COMMISSION (FC) tree pathologists are trying to find the cause of a disease sweeping through oak trees in Charnwood Forest, Leicestershire.

So far, more than 250 trees have been affected, with experts warning that the disease may have become endemic. The oaks are suffering from a virulent form of Oak Decline, a condition that leaves the trunks with cankers that bleed a black, pus-like fluid. The growth of branches and leaves is also stunted.

The condition was first discovered in oak trees in Booth Wood, close to Loughborough, and was confined to a few trees in one corner of the wood. It then spread to a nearby covert plus two other woods in the heart of Charnwood Forest. Recently it has been spotted in oak trees at the side of roads in the area.

Charnwood Borough Council’s wildlife officer, Mark Graham, is working closely with the Forestry Commission. He says: “The trees die very quickly. I tag the infected trees as I come across them so that I can monitor what happens. I am aware of 250 infected trees, but it could be many more. Oaks are the mainstay of Charnwood Forest, and if this really takes hold it is a real threat.

“Oak decline,” he adds, “has been linked to environmental factors such as climate change and drought, but it usually develops over many years and does not normally produce these bleeding cankers. It’s very hard to come up with a solution.” Peter Gamble, chairman of the Charnwood-based Naturalists’ Club, is also worried. He describes the outbreak as “potentially catastrophic”.

Charnwood Borough Council’s wildlife experts are working closely with the FC’s tree pathologists to try to find a remedy. The FC has had reports of outbreaks elsewhere and is asking land-owners to be on the lookout for any infected trees, and report them by calling David Rose on 01420 526243.