Ash dieback has been found in a single sapling on private land near the Quantock Hills in Somerset, it was confirmed yesterday.
The Westcountry now has a total of three incidents where saplings have been infected with the fungus Chalara fraxinea – but Forestry Commission experts say they are not overly concerned about the isolated outbreaks.
"The trees in question have all been young, recently planted saplings," said a commission official. "It means they're too small to have an impact. They've been freshly brought into the area. It's the fungus on the leaves that carries the disease, and the leaves are dying at this time of the year and falling to the ground.
"Next summer will be the time for concern – the single sapling found near Nether Stowey in Somerset was simply pulled up and destroyed, and we believe that will have prevented any further infection," she added.
The same applied to a planted sapling with suspected ash dieback recently found on the eastern slopes of Dartmoor, a few miles west of Exeter – and to another which was identified with the disease in the Tamar basin north of Tavistock.
Experts are far more concerned by outbreaks of the disease which have occurred in wild self-seeded trees in other parts of the UK. Chalara is now believed to pose a real threat to the UK's population of 80 million ash trees.
Speaking of the small outbreak in Somerset yesterday, a Defra spokesman said it would be "very, very bad luck" for the disease to have spread in the short time it was in the county. However, there is a general feeling of gloom among arboriculturists.
Austin Brady, head of conservation at the Woodland Trust, told the Western Morning News: "The impacts on ash will be much more complex than the media headlines suggest, this goes well beyond the simple percentages of what will be lost or estimates of how many million trees are at risk.
"Some landscapes and habitats will be much harder hit than others, and we need to start thinking about how we respond to that now."
It has also been revealed this week that a total of 19 pests and diseases are now attacking trees in the UK, of which ten are considered to be at the 'epidemic stage'.
Added to that, there are estimated to be 11 other deadly tree diseases "on the horizon".
Dr Joan Webber, head of tree health at the Forestry Commission, said many of the pests and diseases imported into the country threaten to wipe out both native and exotic species. "You are not talking about hundreds of trees, but thousands and hundreds of thousands," she said, adding: "With some of the worst organisms you are talking about millions."