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Tree Felling – For Better and Worse…

Making Space: Felling Helps Prevent the Spread of Tree Disease in Wales

Tree disease returns to the news this week. Foresters in Wentwood Forest – Wales’ largest ancient woodland – have been forced to fell around 500 acres of Larch due to spreading Phytophthora ramorum, a fungus-like disease that causes sizeable damage to trees. This sees the undoing of approximately 7 years of work to restore broadleaf trees to UK woodlands. Currently, ancient trees cover around 2% of UK woodland, and many of these sites contain a large number of conifer species, planted during the 1950’s/60’s to replace broadleaf trees felled during WWI. The current initiatives at Wentwood sought to gradually replace these conifers with broadleaf trees which encourage the growth of native plants. While the larch is most immediately affected, it can also pass disease to other nearby species such as oaks, beeches, and horse chestnuts. John Browne, from Natural Resources Wales, stated: “The felling in Wentwood Forest is very sad but this prompt action by the Woodland Trust is essential to try to slow the spread of this devastating disease.”. Natural Resources Wales (NRW), has already invested £500,000 across Wales to halt the spread of the infection, and is reserving an additional £2m to stem the spread of disease in the forest.

Bridging The Gaps: The Need for Preserving the World’s Forests

Tree felling in other parts of the world has also made the news. This time, it highlights the effect of human progress on local wildlife. New Scientist recently reported on studies suggesting that even small removals of parts of forests can have marked effects on biodiversity, putting many species at risk of extinction at a rate much faster than first anticipated.

Recent studies in Thailand showed the 1982 flooding of the rainforest for the hydroelectric dams (an area now known as Chiew Larn Lake) has contributed to the rapid – and in some cases – total decline in native species on islands that remained after flooding. Conservation specialists have found that isolated patches of forest left after clearing, may alter the climate and canopy cover for animals’ habitats. A smaller habitat also means a small population – where restricted breeding results in less disease-resiliant offspring. What compounds this is how another species can eventually dominate these small environments. Whilst other species have declined or totally disappeared, conservationists have observed the rapid population of the Malayan Field Rat – a species more native to the mainland 30 years prior. Luke Gibson from The University of Singapore said “our study focused on small mammals but what we did not report was a similar near-complete extinction of medium to large-sized mammals, such as elephants, tigers and tapirs, which are now completely absent from these islands in the reservoir. All of these animals were all in the forest landscape before the creation of the reservoir”.

The study points to an urgency to conserve the areas of tropical forest that are still intact. “Our study shows we may need to do that very quickly,” said Dr. Gibson.

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