Pennine Way walkers urged to help save threatened Upper Teesdale bushes (From The Advertiser Series)
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Pennine Way walkers urged to help save threatened Upper Teesdale juniper bushes
WALKERS along a section of the Pennine Way in Upper Teesdale are being asked play their part in efforts to save the largest concentration of juniper bushes in the country.
Experts at the Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve are attempting combat the spread of the tree disease phytophthera austrocedrae which has affected about 25 per cent of the junipers between Holwick Head and High Force.
The Pennine Way runs directly alongside the bushes and walkers are being asked to spray their boots and shoes with a special solution at washing stations set up at either end of the section which passes the junipers.
They are also being asked to stick to footpaths and follow any instructions or notices they see.
Martin Furness, reserve manager for Natural England, said bushes were first seen dying off as early as 2003, but the cause was not known at the time.
The disease was originally identified in Chile in 2007 and first discovered in Britain last year, in some cypress trees in Glasgow. Tests by Forest Research, part of the Forestry Commission, confirmed it was the same disease which was affecting the Teesdale junipers.
“It's a water-borne organism and if you get damp soil, it's in the soil. It infects the plant via its roots and then it travels up to the root collar at ground level and the plant dies off,” said Mr Furness.
The Upper Teesdale junipers were the first to be recorded with the disease, which has subsequently been found in bushes in Perthshire and three sites in Cumbria.
“Junipers are important because they are not common throughout Europe. The population down at High Force is so big and we thought it was robust,” added Mr Furness.
“Junipers are also important for biodiversity – migrating birds eat the berries and they are good for hibernating insects. It is also an integral part of the Upper Teesdale landscape.”
A five-phase plan to manage the disease outbreak, stop it spreading and save as many of the remaining healthy junipers as possible is now underway.
The first part will concentrate on the bushes down by the Pennine Way. Dead junipers will be removed and burnt and two large blocks of good bushes will be separated.
Staff will then work their way through the rest of the junipers before tackling the largest outbreak area.
“This is the first attempt to tackle and manage an outbreak of this disease – we are leading the way,” added Mr Furness.
“This management programme is going to take a couple of years. It is hard to say how quickly the disease spread, but it is quite slow in plant disease terms.”
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