Rhododendron clearance will prevent spread of plant disease

To prevent the spread of the virulent plant disease Phytophthora ramorum (otherwise known as Sudden Oak Death) Rhododendron will be cleared at Vinny Combe, on the northern end of the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), this autumn.

The wild purple flowered Rhododendron ponticum, a particularly aggressive coloniser of acid sandy soils such as those of the Quantocks, can act as a host for Sudden Oak Death.  It is a soil and water-borne fungus-like disease that infects and sometimes kills a range of plant and tree species including bilberry, beech, larch, hazel and birch but, as yet, not oak.

Nigel Garnsworthy, Somerset Countryside Head Warden for the National Trust, the landowners at Vinny Combe, said: “Phytophthora ramorum is a very real concern to us. Our experience in other parts of the country tells us that it is far better to clear this species of Rhododendron now rather than wait for an outbreak of the disease on the Quantocks. Left unchecked it would have a devastating impact on the Hills if it were to become established.”

Chris Edwards, Quantock Hills AONB manager, said: “This work is vital to safeguard the nationally-important landscape of the Quantock Hills that we all know and love. We understand the concerns of the local community who regard Vinny Combe as an asset to the hills and a beauty spot, but Phytophothora ramorum presents a very real threat and after discussions with the Parish Council and the Quantock Commons Management Group we have agreed this is the best course of action.”

Natural England funding will pay for the Rhododendron clearance in Vinny Combe. Tim Brodie-James, Phytophthora Lead at Natural England, said: “The Quantock Hills are designated for their outstanding wildlife value and we have a responsibility to conserve and enhance this.  Natural England is working in partnership to clear and dispose of large areas of Rhododendron. This will reduce the area as a potential host and thereby lessen the risk of the establishment of Phytophthora ramorum”

Katy Coate - March 2010

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Greater Quantock Landscape Development Fund

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Useful Contacts

Quantock AONB Service
Tel: 01823 451 884

Somerset Wildlife Trust
Tel: 01823 652 400
www.somersetwildlife.org

National Trust
Tel: 01823 451 814
www.nationaltrust.org

Forestry Commission
Tel: 01278 732 319