The government was at pains to underline the seriousness of the disease. “We will inevitably see a long term decline of the native ash. We must change the structure of our forests and introduce new species”, said Defra chief plant health officer Martin Ward.


A Defra spokeswoman told the Guardian: “The discovery of the disease in these counties does not mean the disease is spreading rapidly. It is likely that the disease has been present in these areas for a number of years, originally caused by spores blown in from mainland Europe.

Ward added: “If we had carried out the kind of research we would like to have done when the disease turned up in Europe it’s possible we could’ve come up with a solution. But that’s easy to say in hindsight.”