THE disease threatening to all but destroy Britain's ash tree population has not yet been detected in Gwent, but it is only a matter of time, fear wildlife experts.

And Gwent Wildlife Trust is urging the Government not adopt a kneejerk reaction to the problem of ash dieback disease, or Chalara fraxinea fungus, which might result in the wrong solution being pursued.

The Government's environment secretary Owen Paterson said last Friday that scientific advice indicated that now the disease has been found in mature trees in Britain, it will not be possible to eradicate it.

He said the focus is now on slowing its spread and minimising its impact, to try to gain time to find trees with genetic resistance and to "restructure our woodlands to make them more resilient."

The trust however, believes key questions - such as what is the nature of the fungus, does it lie dormant and if so for how long, how is it spread and how far, how many trees and what area of woodland is infected, and what is the distribution of vulnerable tree populations - remain to be answered and could lead to different long- and short term responses.

“In the immediate future any response to ash dieback must take a precautionary and ecology-led approach," said Paul Wilkinson, the trust's head of living landscapes.

“The Government should invest in establishing the best way forward and in creating resilient habitats that can survive and adapt in the face of an increasing range of stresses and pressures. Reducing our ash trees literally to ashes could devastate the environment and still have no effect on the disease.”

Reports of about 100,000 infected trees in nurseries being destroyed in a bid to prevent the disease spreading have led to speculation about the destruction of ash throughout the countryside.

But the trust fears that, if the disease is widespread, this approach may be ineffective.

“Ash trees are genetically diverse, unlike the English elms devastated in the 1970s (by Dutch elm disease), so it could be that some will have a level of resistance," said Mr Wilkinson.

"If we destroy all those considered infected, or that are near a source of infection, a naturally resistant population may never emerge.

“We will be keeping a close eye on the Government to ensure it implements the recommendations of the Independent Forestry Panel, including plant and tree biosecurity.”

Ash trees ‘vital’ to woodland eco-systems

ASH trees - there are more than 90 million in Britain - are a vital component of woodland eco-systems.

Gwent Wildlife Trust manager Gemma Bode, who does not think it will be long before the disease is seen in this area, said they support a range of important plants and animals.

"They support a whole host of insects, things like mosses and lichens, and are great for providing nooks, crannies and hollows for birds such as owls and woodpeckers," she said.

Ash dieback disease has now spread to almost 130 sites, including one in Wales, in Carmarthenshire.