The Government looks set to bring in a ban on importing ash trees in a bid to stop the spread of a disease which could wreak the same kind of damage as Dutch elm disease.
Conservationists have called for an immediate mandatory ban on bringing ash trees into the UK to stop ash dieback, caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea, becoming established here.
Without a compulsory ban on imports, ash dieback could become the new Dutch elm disease, causing widespread destruction of one of the country's most common native broadleaf trees, the Woodland Trust has warned.
The fungus, which causes leaf loss and crown dieback and can lead to tree death, has wiped out 90% of ash trees in Denmark in seven years and is becoming widespread throughout central Europe.
Last month, the Horticultural Trades Association announced a voluntary moratorium on importing the trees in a bid to stop the spread of ash dieback, which has been identified in several places in the UK this year.
The Forestry Commission is currently conducting a consultation on controlling the disease, which closes on October 26, and yesterday the Environment Department said an import ban could be in place as early as November before the main autumn tree planting season gets under way.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: "This disease could have a devastating impact on our native ash trees so we need to take action to stop it.
"We are working towards a ban on imports, and looking to impose movement restrictions on trees from infected areas.
"Work is already under way to prevent the disease spreading and trade bodies have been encouraging their members to impose voluntary import bans.
"By taking decisive action we can prevent our ash trees from suffering the same fate as elm trees did in the 1970s."
Norman Starks, UK operations director at the Woodland Trust said: "This is not a minute too soon.
"We expect a decision to be made swiftly and decisively following the October 26 deadline before the tree planting season starts.
"The trust will no longer plant imported ash trees on our estate and is reducing the number of ash to be planted this season by 100,000 trees.
"We are committed to working with the industry to do everything possible to prevent the further spread of ash dieback and protect one of the nation's most common native trees."