Disease only found in Leicestershire is killing trees
Scientists say bacterium that have never before been found in Britain are the cause of a blight that has infected hundreds of trees in the Charnwood Forest.
Experts from the Forestry Commission have spent the past 18 months testing samples from oak trees in woodlands across north Leicestershire.
Mark Graham alerted the Forestry Commission to the blight which has killed hundreds of trees in Charnwood Forest.
They were investigating concerns raised by conservationists that trees were becoming stunted and developing cankers that bleed a black liquid.
Some have been killed by the mystery disease and others had to be felled after becoming weakened.
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More than 250 mature oaks showed signs of the blight at attractions like Swithland Woods and The Outwoods, near Loughborough.
Mark Graham, Charnwood Borough Council's wildlife officer, who called in the Forestry Commission, said: "These three bacterium are new to Britain and, if they have not been found anywhere else in the world, it may be that we have the dubious honour of having them named after the locality here. More tests still need to be done.
"It looks highly likely that we won't find a treatment so our efforts will have to focus on prevention.
"We need to see if these bacterium are spread in the air, by animals, insects or even people.
"Happily in this area the spread of it seems to be slowing and we think that is because we have had a wet summer which has improved the general health of the trees.
"Unfortunately it looks like there have been possible outbreaks of this in woods across the midlands and all the way to the Welsh borders."
A Forestry Commission spokesman said: "In Charnwood Forest the decline is severe. Three species of bacterium, all apparently new to Britain, have been isolated by our scientists."
Tony Kirkham, a tree health expert and head of the arboretum at London's Kew Gardens, said: "The problems in Charnwood could quite easily be caused by new bacterium – that's to say ones that have been around for a while but we just haven't discovered them. We still find it hard to explain why one tree will develop symptoms but another right next to it will escape."
He said the current cold snap would help struggling trees.
He said: "The cold means they can shut down completely, stop growing and have a good rest before bursting back in the spring."