The first case of a deadly tree disease to be found in a protected area of Scotland has been discovered in Stirling.
Ash dieback, which causes woodland to gradually wither and die, was identified in saplings at Balquhidderock Wood. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) confirmed the discovery at the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Two samples were identified as having the fungus chalara, following lab tests by Forest Research at the Northern Research Station in Roslin. No mature trees have yet been affected at privately-owned Balquhidderock Wood, which is managed by Stirling Council.
The disease is spread via airborne spores and measures are being put in place to prevent the disease reaching nearby Perthshire and Clackmannanshire.
Susan Davies, SNH’s director of policy and advice, said: “This is the first known case of infection in a nature protected area in Scotland. Whilst not unexpected, it is disappointing.
“We are working closely with Forestry Commission Scotland and others, including Stirling Council, to establish the scale of the infection and to implement the action required. Action is likely to involve the removal of smaller infected saplings, but mature trees will be left unless they pose an imminent safety risk.”
It is thought older trees may yet be found to have resistance to the disease, which was first recorded in Poland in 1992. Ash dieback has since spread across the continent, first found in England in spring 2012, and in Scotland in August 2012.
Although it was originally discovered in nurseries and on planted stock, it seems likely also to have reached the eastern UK as spore plumes from the continent.
The UK Government has drawn up an interim disease control plan and has imposed a ban on imports and movements of ash plants and seeds to try to slow the spread.