A virulent disease which kills ash trees has been detected in Britain for the first time.
The fungal disease called ash dieback was found in a consignment of trees imported from Holland in November last year.
Government experts say the blight, which has devastated trees across Europe, is a 'serious concern' for the country's 80million ash trees which are a much-loved feature of parks and gardens.
Symptoms include leaves developing black spots before dropping off, followed by cankers on bark and twigs and branches dying.
Inspectors from the Government's Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) are frantically trying to trace all infected batches, believing that other foreign firms may have sent diseased trees to Britain.
Some of the 2,000 Dutch trees have already been sold to 90 customers from an unnamed nursery in the South East by mail order.
All 90 customers have been asked to destroy their trees and take them to dumps in sealed bags to be disposed of in landfill.
The disease is rife across eastern Europe and Scandinavia. In Denmark it has infected around 90 per cent of ash trees.
Richard McIntosh of Fera said: 'The worst case scenario is that if left unchecked the disease could have a very serious impact.
'We know that the disease can spread through trading of infected trees as in this case.'
Found: An ash tree suffering from the virulent disease ash dieback caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea
Scientists are not sure how the fungus - called Chalara fraxinea - spreads between trees but suspect it could be carried by rain or insects.
The Forestry Commission has now issued a 'quarantine pest alert' and has brought in emergency measures urging anyone who has imported ashes to check their trees for symptoms and report suspected cases.
The alert has grim echoes of the arrival of Dutch elm disease which has wiped out millions of British trees in the last 40 years.
Article sourced from the Daily Mail