A CONSERVATION charity says the first reported north west case of ash dieback disease in Knutsford is ‘too close for comfort’.

It is understood a commercial nursery in the Knutsford area, which has not been identified, imported a batch of trees infected with the chalara fraxinea fungus.

Ash dieback disease has infected around 90 per cent of the species in Denmark and is threatening to devastate the UK’s 80million population.

Cheshire Wildlife Trust says the disease could pose a very real threat to Cheshire, which is already one of the least wooded counties in the UK.

The charity is now assessing all of its nature reserves with a woodland component within its 46 sites.

Jacki Hulse, the trust’s head of estates and land management, said: “Sadly, I can still remember how the face of our countryside changed after Dutch elm disease in my early years at the trust.

“Most of our beautiful and stunning woodland clough nature reserves in Cheshire are dominated by ash trees and losing them would ultimately change those woodlands forever, possibly irrecoverably, as non-native species such as sycamore may then take over.”

The comments come as the Government announced plans for tackling the disease.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “The scientific advice is that it won’t be possible to eradicate this disease now that we have discovered it in mature trees in Great Britain. However, that does not necessarily mean the end of the British ash.

“If we can slow its spread and minimise its impact, we will gain time to find those trees with genetic resistance to the disease and to restructure our woodlands to make them more resilient.”

Jacki added: “We welcome the Government’s approach in safeguarding mature trees from destruction and research into possible immunity in older specimens.

“We urge the public to be vigilant and consider basic biosecurity when they visit woodlands as this recent case, albeit in imported commercial stock feels too close for comfort.”

Cheshire has just over 6.4 per cent of woodland cover compared to the UK average of around 10 per cent.

Woodland loss in Cheshire has contributed to the decline of several iconic species in the last century including the hazel dormouse.