A SUM of £15,000 per year could be set aside by New Milton Town Council for work to prevent the spread of a deadly tree disease.
Assistant town clerk Theresa Elliott updated the council’s amenities committee on growing concerns over Chalara ash dieback, which is caused by a fungus from Asia and is especially destructive to the common ash native to the UK.
The fungus’ spores can spread through the air, and experts have estimated that the disease could claim 98% of ash trees nationwide in the next five-10 years.
It is expected to devastate ash trees in similar vein to Dutch elm disease, which destroyed more than 25 million UK elm in the 1970s and ’80s.
Strong action was needed from the town council in its role as responsible landowner, Mrs Elliott said.
Committee members were told the closest confirmed cases of the disease to New Milton so far were in Totton in 2018 and Hythe this year.
Arrangements are being made for signs to be erected at wooded sites around the town encouraging walkers to clean their boots after visiting to help prevent spread to other areas.
New Forest District Council carries out regular inspections of trees on town council land, but Mrs Elliott pointed out the best time for this is when they are in full leaf, between June and September.
The town council’s own ground workers have also been given pictograms to help them identify signs of the disease.
“They would be able to highlight any trees of concern and report back to [town council estates and facilities manager] Mark Jeffries for these to be sent on to New Forest District Council,” the assistant clerk explained.
“If ash trees are looking like they have a problem we could be advised to take them down if they are near footpaths or somewhere else where they could pose a safety issue.”
Councillors were warned that any action taken, such as felling in the worst case scenario, would incur costs. The cost of such work over the next five-plus years is estimated to be nearly £70,000.
To allow for this, amenities chairman Cllr Geoffrey Blunden said the town council would have to set aside £15,000 annually and he recommended planting two trees for every one lost, in line with NFDC policy.
Members agreed that the annual allocation be considered when the town council’s budget is reviewed.
Town mayor Cllr Alvin Reid said: “It is vitally important that we educate the public and do everything that we can to see what the public can do to help slow down the spread of this disease.”