Serious disease of bilberry found at the Lickey Hills

By on 11/04/2011 in News

Routine screening of sites in the Birmingham area for a serious notifiable plant disease caused by the organism Phytopthora ramorum has uncovered infection on rhododendron and bilberry at two sites in the  Lickey Hills Country Park.

This fungal-like organism mainly affects shrubs, such as rhododendron, viburnum and camellia, and trees such as Japanese larch, beech, magnolia and horse chestnut. To date the disease has been found in plant nurseries, garden centres, parks and historic gardens, as well as woodland and the wider environment.. Bilberry has previously been found to be affected in heathland and woodland situations.

Symptoms can vary with the type of plant infected. On shrubs, typical symptoms can include blackening of leaves around the midrib and at the tips, and/or wilting and dieback of shoots. Trees can show black lesions (called cankers) on the bark, which 'bleed' a dark sap.

Plant Health Inspectors from the Food, Environment Research Agency (FERA) found the disease and have put in place eradication and containment measures.  The site is subject to a containment notice issued under the Plant Health Order (Phytophthora ramorum) (England), 2004, as amended.

Treatment commenced on Monday 11th April, headed by The Parks Woodland Team. The aim is to reduce the risk of the disease spreading on and off the site. In particular, two small areas of the Lickey Hills will be closed off, whilst treatment is undertaken.

Treatment commenced with herbicidal treatment of the bilberry, and felling of the rhododendron with stump killing. All plant material will be burnt on site, and in-situ.

Site notices will be placed at and near the locations where the infected plants have been located, and information will be provided via the Ranger Service at the Lickey Hills Visitor's Centre. The notice will advise the public to help in preventing the spread of this disease by:

  • Keeping to footpaths  and avoid walking  through vegetation, particularly rhododendron and bilberry
  • Cleaning footwear thoroughly to remove soil and vegetation when leaving the site.
  • Not removing plant material from the site
  • Keeping dogs on a lead within these areas

Scientists from FERA will be undertaking follow-up surveys in the next few weeks to establish the extent of the infected areas and the success of our control measures and any further work that might be required.

The Food Environment Research Agency (FERA) are working closely with other agencies, organisations and landowners to reduce the spread and impact of Phytophthora ramorum.

Phytophthora programme staff are regularly carrying out surveillance activities across England & Wales and monitoring sites both in parks,heritage gardens and the wider environment where there have been previous findings of this disease. The success of the programme is largely due to the close engagement with stakeholders, land owners, the Horticultural trade and the public.

The Phytophthora programme is also funding research into management of the disease, together with raising public awareness and encouraging Behavioural Change and very much appreciate the support of the public and stakeholders in  supporting this important work.

Notes to Editors:

1. The public can help by reporting any suspected findings to Fera using the  following contact information: Telephone: 01904 465625;
Email: planthealth.info@fera.gsi.gov.uk.
More information is available at:

 http://www.fera.defra.gov.uk/plants/plantHealth/pestsDiseases/phytophthora/pRamorum
2. The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) is an Executive Agency of the UK Government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Its remit is to provide robust evidence, rigorous analysis and expert professional advice to government, international organisations and the private sector, in order to support and develop a sustainable and secure food chain, a healthy natural environment, and to protect the global community from biological and chemical risks.

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