Woods that inspired Beatrix Potter and John Constable could be lost because of a surge in a disease affecting ash, the National Trust has warned.
The conservation charity said it faced its worst year on record for felling trees owing to ash dieback, in part due to one of the warmest and driest springs on record. Increased prolonged hot and dry conditions driven by the climate crisis were putting trees under stress and making them more susceptible to disease, dramatically speeding up the impact of ash dieback, the trust said.
It said the Covid-19 lockdown meant rangers who would ordinarily carry out felling and maintenance work to ensure tree safety had not been able to do so, leaving them having to play catch-up.
While the National Trust has felled about 4,000-5,000 trees a year in recent years, largely because of ash dieback, this year it faces having to cut down around 40,000 trees, with a bill of GBP2m. Landscapes under threat include the Cotswolds, where more than 7,000 trees will have to be felled in the coming year. In all, the trust expects to fell more than 15,000 trees in south-west England.
Woodlands around the home of the painter John Constable, in Flatford, Suffolk, are also under threat, as are sites in the Lake District that inspired Beatrix Potter, including Troutbeck Park farm, which she managed, and High Oxen fell.
The National Trust said other woodlands, including the ravine woods of the White Peak in Derbyshire, where ash trees cling to the limestone of the steep dale sides, will change beyond recognition.
Luke Barley, a tree and woodland adviser, said: “Ash dieback is a catastrophe for nature. Our landscapes and woodlands are irrevocably changing before our eyes, and this year’s combination of a dry spring and late frost may have dramatically sped up the spread and severity of ash dieback. It is nothing new, but the speed at which it is spreading seems to have been exacerbated due to the weather, and the time and expense necessary to tackle it contributes to the perfect storm we are witnessing.”
The charity, which needs to save GBP100m because of the pandemic, is appealing to the public to replace lost woodland by donating to the Everyone Needs Nature campaign via its website.