Ash dieback not only affects ash trees but also the birds, mammals, insects and plants whose lives are linked to the tree.

But it is not just specialists that will be affected. Ash is a wildlife all-rounder; it is an important habitat and food source for many species, particularly roosting birds and bats, as well as hole-nesting birds. Great spotted woodpeckers happily plunder ash keys and use the trees as a sap run. And, in ash-dominated habitats, birds such as redstarts use trees for nesting and breeding – they could be seriously affected if ash dieback reaches these habitats.

But it is our bugs and insects that will bear the brunt of any ash tree fallout.

Yesterday the spread of the deadly fungus was described as an “epidemic” after being found in more than 80 sites across the country, while the gardening industry threatened to sue the Government for millions for failing to act folliowing warnings in 2009.

Roddie Burgess, who was head of plant health at the Forestry Commission, told a newspaper that in 2007 he had sent an alert to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) following a conference after he and his colleagues were told about the damage the disease had done in northern Europe.

David Miliband presided over a 20% cut in biosecurity funding on 2007 alone. Between 2004 and 2010 the “monitoring and biosecurity” budget fell by almost 60% in real terms.

The number of woodland sites in the east of England found to be infected with deadly ash dieback has leapt to more than 20. The main concentration of cases of ash dieback – which has wiped out swaths of trees in the rest of Europe – are in mature ancient forests in East Anglia, along the coast where easterly winds arrive from Scandinavia. By Friday there were just two confirmed sites, but surveys have now turned up many more, the Forestry Commission said.

“The new cases will have to be confirmed by scientists, but it certainly looks as if there are more than 20 suspicious sites and we will continue to survey, although we really only have a one- or two-week window now to detect new cases before the autumn leaf drop makes it very difficult to see,” said Stuart Burgess of the Forestry Commission.