TREES are to be felled in a Herefordshire woodland after being struck by a spreading fungal disease.

Several dozen mature ash trees will be removed from Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Lea and Pagets Wood nature reserve near Fownhope this autumn, to ensure public safety, a trust spokesperson has confirmed.

The trees, which are in a three-hectare area to the south-western side of the wood, are suffering from fungal disease ash dieback, which has been affecting woodlands across the UK over the last decade.

Visible symptoms include dead branches, blackening of leaves and discoloured stems, often with a diamond-shaped lesion where a leaf was attached. Trees will eventually drop limbs, collapse or fall as they rot from the inside.

The disease quickly compromises the structural strength of the tree making them potentially hazardous, and if the trees are not removed before the disease spreads, it can become very hazardous to fell them safely, the trust spokesperson said.

Trees in areas with little public access are left standing to provide valuavle dead wood habitat for wildlife.

The trust said that all precautions are being put in place to ensure minimum disturbance to wildlife such as bats and dormice while the work takes place. Bat roost boxes have already been relocated and dormice and bat activity is also being carefully monitored throughout the works. The work is being carried out at this time of year to minimise disturbance to nesting birds and hibernating bats and dormice as well as to reduce impact on tracks and paths.

A new glade will be created in the area to allow woodland edge plants and animals to thrive, while new-growth trees and shrubs will provide bird nesting and dormouse habitat, and deadwood habitat will be created for invertebrates and foraging.

The trust said if will also be planting new trees, many of which have grown up in other parts of the wood.

Reserves manager Esther Clarke said: “Lea and Pagets Wood has been dominated by ash trees for decades, maybe centuries, and it will be interesting to see which other species flourish and come to fill the spaces left behind.

"The wood also includes many fine sessile oak trees and an understorey of hazel and field maple, together with some hawthorn, holly, crab-apple and spindle.

"A new mix of trees and shrubs should make the woodland more diverse and resilient and ensure the overall health of the woodland into the future.”