Special Report: Beech Bark Disease Killer in disguise

by Dr Glynn Percival

Beech Bark Disease occurs when three pathogens combine. It starts when the Beech Scale insect feeds on the bark of the Beech tree.  

The insect doesn’t do much damage itself, but by feeding on the sap, it provides an opening for two species of fungi to attack: Nectria coccinea and Nectria galligena.  Nectria coccinea begins to colonise the exposed sapwood.

Nectria galligena then attacks.  It enters the bark of the host and kills it.

White patches appear on the bark, and usually within 3-6 years of the arrival of the scales, the host tree dies.  Larger trees tend to be affected more than small ones.  If one beech tree in a beech woodland develops the disease, it can spread more widely.

If the problem is spotted early on, it can be treated by washing off the insects, and applying a feed such as mulch when the scale has been removed.

However, once the fungus has become established, it is often too late for the tree.  Work to find solutions is on-going.

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