The region is particularly rich in ash trees – more than 30% of our woodlands are made up of the indigenous species, as are countless miles of Westcountry hedgerow. [Experts] fear some areas of Somerset and Devon in particular will be laid bare of tree cover.

“Even though ash grows extensively from seed in the UK it’s not, commercially speaking, a tree for planting on – the Dutch do that well and that’s why they are imported. But once the disease gets into those we have a big problem, hence the last-minute panic.

“There was an international symposium set up to discuss this disease in Norway in 2010 and it was suggested there that the UK and Ireland should ban imports,” Dr Hancock added, saying it was a shame this move had never materialised.

“Powerful lobbies have pushed to legislate so we can fight against the import of things like swine flu and so on, but we are far weaker when it comes to the import of plant diseases.