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Mysterious and widespread death of trees is ‘changing the local landscape’

February 12th, 2024 9:33 AM

By Emma Connolly

Ger O’Sullivan and Mark Cooke of O’Sullivan Tree Services at work near Leap where they believe many tree species are dying. (Photo: Anne Minihane)

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A WEST Cork tree surgeon who has worked in the industry for thirty years says the pattern of disease he is seeing now is by far the worst he has ever experienced. Ger O’Sullivan of Leap-based O’Sullivan Tree Services says urgent research is now needed to establish why some evergreen trees, which previously thrived here, are being wiped out.

Dealing with ash dieback has been a large part of his work of late. The fungal disease first came to Ireland in 2012 on imported European plants.

The disease is now prevalent across the country and is predicted to cause the death of the majority of the ash trees over the next 20 years.

But now Ger wants to highlight issues he is seeing with Scots pine, noble fir and larch that have been slowly emerging over the past two years, but which are now gathering pace in West Cork.

‘We’re also seeing problems with oak, chestnut, beech and Lawson cypress. It’s hard to kill an evergreen tree, so we don’t know what’s happening,’ he said.

Judy Powell from Leap with Ger O’Sullivan in front of a Whitethorn tree which has died in the last twelve months.


Ger said there’s a safety issue involved, as rotting trees are a hazard.

‘But we need to know what’s killing these species. Seeing something like a big beech tree, or older trees, dying is very worrying. If things keep going at the pace they’re at, it will change the landscape of West Cork.’

Ger said with his experienced eye, he can spot trees in trouble ‘a mile off’. Lots of people, he said, may just think their trees are dormant at this time of the year, but will soon discover they are in fact dead.

Meanwhile, FG senator Tim Lombard said that Minister Darragh O’Brien needs to put in a place a fund to allow local authorities across the country to carry out surveys to identify ash dieback in roadside trees and have them removed to prevent the problem spreading.

‘It’s important to remember that this isn’t just an issue for landowners. Many homeowners may have an ash tree in their roadside garden. There is a potential liability here for both landowners and homeowners. While there is an ash dieback scheme in place for plantations, there is nothing for roadside trees,’ Senator Lombard said.

He said the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage needs to intervene because ash dieback is contagious to neighbouring trees.

‘Minister O’Brien should put in place a special fund to allow local authorities to carry out surveys to identify ash dieback in roadside trees. Additional financial supports should be allocated for the safe removal of trees which are weakened from the disease.

‘By minimising the risk of trees falling, we can remove a major health and safety hazard from our roads particularly during the severe weather conditions like those brought on by Storm Isha and those predicted for Storm Jocelyn and future extreme weather events,’ Senator Lombard said.

Ger said urgent action is needed.

‘Where is this going to end? This problem goes far beyond the ash dieback and research needs to be carried out to see what’s happening to these native Irish trees.’

A large horse chestnut in Glandore village which has died.

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