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Alarm at fungal threat to trees

- by Joe Mason

Thousands of plane trees have been killed.

Holiday visitors to Greece and the Greek islands may have noticed a drop in the number of plane trees in the Greek landscape. Alarm is spreading as trees across Greece and the Greek islands are being wiped out by a devastating fungal disease for which there appears to be no immediate cure.

Thousands of plane trees have already been killed by a fungus and experts warn of an 'ecological disaster' unless something is done to stop the spread of the deadly disease.

The European Commission has now been asked to step in to help stem the spread of the fungusCeratocystis platani, before it reaches forests in other European countries.

The fungus disease was first detected in Greece in 2003 but areas of Messinia have already been devastated and thousands of trees in the Peloponnese are thought to be affected.

The fungus is believed to have been spread by forestry workers, as the deadly spores can easily be carried on sawdust encrusted machinery and tools such as power saws and tree felling equipment.

The disease affects trees regardless of size and age and, because there is no effective treatment, an infected tree usually dies within two years.

Plane trees are popular in Greece and the Greek islands because their large size and large leaves provide plenty of shade. Single large specimens are often found in village centres and near Greek tavernas where locals and tourists can sit on hot holiday summer days.

A plant pathologist at the NAGREF-Institute of Mediterranean Forest Ecosystems warned: 'Unless we take immediate drastic action to limit the spread of disease, the pathogen can spread rapidly in other parts of the country, causing a huge ecological disaster.'

Greek MP Kriton Arsenis has submitted a written proposal to the EC requesting immediate emergency measures to help tackle the epidemic.