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Mystery of holly tree deaths in New Forest

The holly trees affected seemed to be older specimens
The holly trees affected seemed to be older specimens

THE deaths of a number of mature New Forest holly trees continues to be a mystery, despite researchers working to find the cause.

It has been established by Forestry England that some are being affected by a fungal infection – but that is not thought to be the primary cause of the dieback.

A spokesperson said research by FE’s plant team found only mature trees were at risk and there was “some evidence” it was partly because of infection by the Neonectria fungus.

She added: “But this does not seem to be the main cause of the dieback they are experiencing.”

The holly trees affected seemed to be older, and there was evidence they had been repeatedly coppiced or pollarded.

Younger saplings growing nearby “don’t appear to be suffering”, nor does holly growing as understorey in the ancient woodlands.

“Fortunately, only a small amount of older holly trees have extensive decay and it is possible that these trees have reached their natural limit of their age, or the soils are leaching out its nutrients, both of which are natural processes,” she said.

However, FE has played down fears of multiple tree deaths, telling the A&T the cases of declining health have been limited to “a small number of mature holly trees within the open areas of the Forest”.

FE will continue to assess affected trees and take samples to help identify the causes of the die-back”, the spokesperson continued.

The agency was also carrying out pollarding and coppicing works at Bolderwood and Fritham in an effort to “reinvigorate” and increase the lifespan of some of the older holly trees and bushes, which have been fenced off.

The spokesperson added: “Ongoing holly management is also currently taking place in 12 broadleaf woodland locations across the New Forest to help improve the habitat for rare lichens and encourage regeneration.”

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