Eastbourne woodland in the grip of ash dieback disease

Ash dieback

Deadly disease has left thousands of trees dead or dying.

Local woodland is in the grip of a deadly airborne fungus that is forecast to decimate 95% of the ash trees in the UK. Over the last 12 months ash dieback has left thousands of trees in Eastbourne dead or dying.  

The woodland canopy that runs between Butts Brows in Willingdon and Meads has turned a deathly grey colour, clearly showing the extent of the fatal disease.

A diseased tree becomes dangerous, with branches or the tree itself at risk of falling onto footpaths, roads and property. Currently there is no preventative treatment available.  The Forestry Commission has now identified the areas of woodland between Butts Brow and Meads that must be removed.  

Eastbourne Borough Council has developed a long-term plan in liaison with the Forestry Commission that will see felling begin in early December. The whole project will take up to five years to complete.

Tim Whelan, Director of Service Delivery at Eastbourne Borough Council, said:

“Ash dieback is a devastating disease and one that the Forestry Commission and local authorities are tackling up and down the UK.  In Eastbourne the spread has been rapid over the last 12 months, particularly in the woodland between Willingdon and Meads.

“The first phase of the felling operation will be adjacent to Butts Lane and Butts Brow car park. Our contractor will make footpaths and roads safe and ensure much valued public access to these areas is maintained. However, it is inevitable that some woodland walks will be inaccessible to the public while this essential work is undertaken.”

The felling operation will only take place during the winter months to better limit the impact on wildlife and because fewer people use the woodland at this time of the year.

Matthew Woodcock, from the Forestry Commission’s South East team, said:

“Eastbourne’s ash dominated woodlands are suffering from ash dieback and many trees are dead or dying. 

“Eastbourne Borough Council has consulted with us and agreed a plan of action to tackle this damaging tree disease which includes the commencement of felling operations in the interests of public safety.”

While a limited amount of the cut timber will be left in place to provide habitat for insects, birds and other flora and fauna, most of the dead trees will be taken to a biomass facility.  

Tim Whelan added:

“While ash dieback is a dreadful disease, the removal of the trees will lead to very significant improvements in biodiversity.  It will create new glades and small meadows that will encourage insects and chalk grassland species, old dew ponds will be reawakened as a water source for wildlife, replanting with mixed species will mitigate against global warming and avoid a future vulnerable monoculture and the ‘lost’ panoramic views from the upper reaches of the local downland will be restored.”

The council is holding a public exhibition at the Town Hall on Friday, November 29 between 9.30am and 4pm where council officers will be on hand to answer questions.  Following this, the exhibition will be on view in St Mary the Virgin, Church Street, Willingdon, from 9am to 5pm daily (except Saturdays 9am to 4pm) from December 2 to 16.

Additionally, information is available at www.actionashdieback.co.uk where you can view aerial video footage of the woodland taken by the Forestry Commission and images that clearly show affected areas.