A chronic shortage of plant experts risks making it almost impossible to control the disease threatening up to one million ash trees in the Westcountry.
As the Government's crisis committee Cobra met yesterday to discuss the disease threatening woodland, the Western Morning News learned that the country now has fewer than ten experts qualified to deal with infections in trees.
The British Society for Plant Pathology claims the subject has been either cancelled completely or greatly reduced at universities and colleges.
The increase in imported tree diseases – matched by a national decrease in the number of plant pathologists – has been described as "the perfect storm" by a leading Westcountry professor.
Yesterday's Cobra meeting heard how 100,000 British trees have already been destroyed in a bid to prevent ash-dieback disease spreading – but at the same time Exeter University's Professor Murray Grant warned that courses in plant pathology had almost disappeared and the number of experts qualified to identify complex diseases in trees had reduced to single figures.
"We're not training people – which means it is a perfect storm," said professor Grant, who heads the university's plant molecular biology unit.
"We are getting a large number of diseases coming into this country as the global economy increases, but at the same time there are far fewer people being trained in the subject."