CONCERNS have been raised that a disease decimating the ash tree population could affect a North Oxford community wood.

The Forest of Oxford charity planted around 2,000 ash trees at Cutteslowe Park Community Woodlands five years ago.

This week they returned with a group of local schoolchildren to plant more trees, but due to concerns about the ash dieback fungal disease, alternative species had to be found.

Forest of Oxford co-ordinator John Thompson fears the existing trees will be struck down by the airborne disease.

The charity would have to find £5,000 to replace the existing trees if they are affected.

Mr Thompson said: “We are not planting any ash, thanks to the devastating dieback disease, which is a setback to our plans.

“It’s disappointing for the children who planted 2,000 ash trees here about five years ago. They will probably all die as there does not seem to be a cure.

“The disease is airborne and coming in from the continent and already affecting eastern areas of the country.

“And it’s disappointing for us too because it will mean finding about another £5,000 to replace them with alternative trees.”

Mr Thompson said no tests have been carried out at Cutteslowe Park as yet, but he believed it was “inevitable” trees would be affected by dieback.

The 2,000 existing ash trees were either donated by the Woodland Trust or bought by the Forest of Oxford, established by the then warden of Shotover Park, Dr David Steel, in 1992.

No ash trees were among the latest 400 specimens planted due to concerns about the disease.

Instead they are a wide variety including cherry, rowan and holly, to minimise the risk of disease and in a bid to encourage wildlife.

The latest trees were planted by about 200 youngsters from Cutteslowe Primary School.

The trees were planted across the A40 at Cutteslowe Park Community Woodlands to try to help convert the carbon dioxide from cars’ exhausts into oxygen.

The Forest of Oxford receives funding from a variety of sources including public donations.

It buys its trees from Murray Maclean, of Frilford Heath, a company that only supplies UK-grown plants.

Mr Maclean said: “I am lucky because I have not grown any ash recently.

“But my supplier in Gloucestershire has been left with 50,000 ash trees he cannot sell. It’s a real headache.

“Now the problem is that it’s almost impossible to get alternatives to ash, sweet chestnut for instance.

“Buyers such as estates, farmers, and indeed charities cannot find replacements for ash.”

Vice-chairman of the Friends of Cutteslowe and Sunnymeade Parks Ian Sheppard, who helped organise the tree-planting day, said: “We are looking for as much local support as possible and hoping to develop a partnership with schools and businesses.”

The ash is the third most common tree in the UK according to the Woodland Trust, accounting for about 30 per cent of our woodlands.

Earlier this month 300 ash trees were burned near Bicester after it was discovered that they contained the Chalera fungus which causes the disease.