LARCH will be removed from all Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) sites in the south west of the country as part of fresh plans to slow down the spread of Phytophthora ramorum. 

Officials have today unveiled a swathe of new 'proactive' measures they hope will manage the disease, including more pre-emptive felling and the construction of roads to create breaks in the pathogen’s path – much like fire-breaks aim to slow wildfire moving across the landscape. 

By 2032, FLS aims to remove all larch on the land it manages in Scotland's south west, P. ramorum's epicentre. Since being first identified there in 2010, the disease has spread aggressively up the west coast of the country.

READ MORE: Revised Phytophthora ramorum Action Plan published by Scottish Forestry

Graeme Prest, FLS's director of land management and regions, said: “Like all other land managers in Scotland, we have been playing our part in working to control this disease.

“With no known cure and eradication of the disease considered to be unachievable, the only available counter measure is to slow the pathogen’s spread by felling.

“Previously, we have been waiting until the disease arrives at a location and then have responded to the Statutory Plant Health Notice that requires us to fell infected and ‘at-risk’ trees in the vicinity by a set date.

“But a reactive approach puts a fairly hefty spanner in the works of our normal work programmes. We have to stop planned harvesting works, move people and machinery, deal with the diseased crop and also re-plan the work that we would normally have been doing. It’s a significant challenge for how we manage our resources to best effect for the  business.  

“This new approach allows us to get more on the front foot and build disease management in to our annual felling programmes, making the effort to tackle the disease more cost efficient, manageable and sustainable." 

In the next most vulnerable zone the target is to remove at least 50 per cent, the next again at least 20 per cent. In the more northern and eastern parts of Scotland, where it is hoped that there is a long term future for larch , the intention is to only fell larch if it is due for felling or if they become infected and subject to an SPHN. 

Forestry Journal: Stock image of larch affected by the disease Stock image of larch affected by the disease

As part of its proactive approach FLS will also construct access routes to larch that are not being felled, in order to allow for swift access and action if at some future date they become diseased.

Including road construction and pre-emptive felling of larch into day-to-day work plans will not only help to further slow the spread of the disease but will also help FLS to manage the cost and resource burden over a longer period of time.  Road construction will also provide access for harvesting in years to come and improve access for responding to other hazards, such as storm damage.

The disease risk is greatest in West of Scotland, and although present elsewhere, the level of risk steadily diminishes towards the East of the country.

Graeme, added: “We are adopting this new approach proportionately with those risk zones so that all of our teams can better manage their contribution to giving larch in Scotland more of a fighting chance of surviving.

“We will plant a variety of species to replace the larch that are felled to minimise as much as we can the impact of their loss in the landscape. It is all part of the process of adapting the forests to be more resilient for the increasing threats from pests and diseases and climate change.” 

The disease was first found in Scottish plant nurseries in 2002 but then detected in larch in 2010.

P. ramorum can be spread in mud or needles stuck to footwear and machines, vehicles, bicycles or buggy tyres. All equipment and gear should be brushed clean before entering or leaving a forest.