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Red alert in Britain’s forests as Black death sweeps in

February 4, 2011 Comments off

Millions of larches have had to be felled to prevent the spread of a lethal virus from Asia. Christopher Middleton reports from the bleak and bare hillsides of South Wales.

Kill and cure: a disaeased larch forest being cleared at Crymant, near Neath. 

Kill and cure: a diseased larch forest being cleared at Crymant, near Neath. Photo: JAY WILLIAMS
By Christopher Middleton

Just before Christmas, you could stand at the top of Crynant Forest in South Wales and not have a clue that there was a village in the valley below. Today, the view down to the little white houses is uninterrupted. Where in mid-December there were thousands of larch trees, now there is a mass of stumps and branches.

It looks like a photograph from a First World War battlefield. A featureless no-man’s-land, interrupted by the occasional blasted tree trunk, pointing at an unnatural angle.

And that’s just the start of it. Turn your gaze in any direction, and there is a scene of devastation. Bare hillsides as far as the eye can see; slopes that look as if they’re covered in bracken are in fact coated with fallen trees.

Meanwhile, piles of logs as tall as barns are stacked up neatly by the roadside, like casualties awaiting collection from clearing stations.

The force that swept through here was not a hurricane, but an army of tree-felling engines sent in by the Forestry Commission. Already they’ve cleared 380 acres, but there’s more to be done. Much more.

And they’re in a race against time. Across the country, some 1.4 million larches have been cut down in the Read more…