Ash dieback confirmed at five sites

Braintree and Witham Times: A young Common Ash Tree with wilting leaves shows the symptoms of dieback A young Common Ash Tree with wilting leaves shows the symptoms of dieback

The first outbreak of ash dieback has been confirmed in Northern Ireland, agriculture chiefs have revealed.

The tree disease Chalara was identified in imported young saplings at five sites in Co Down and Co Antrim.

Statutory notices have been served on owners of the plantations requiring the destruction of around 5,000 affected ash saplings and associated plant debris.

A number of other sites are also being investigated as part of an ongoing surveillance programme.

The Northern Ireland Minister for Agricultural and Rural Development Michelle O'Neill said agriculture officials in the Irish Republic had been alerted about the outbreak.

Land owned by the National Trust at Runkerry, close to the famous Giant's Causeway on the North Antrim coast, is believed to be one of the affected areas.

Ms O'Neill added: "Legislation was introduced north and south last month banning the import and movement of ash plants for planting from infected areas.

"However, we must remain vigilant as this disease still poses a very serious threat. I would appeal for a responsible approach over the coming season. I encourage all stakeholders to be alert for signs of this disease and report findings."

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