THE Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation are urging the public to remain vigilant for ash trees that are showing signs of the fungus, Chalara fraxinea.

The fungus, commonly referred to as ash dieback, causes ash trees to die - and the charities fear it could be devastating for Worcestershire’s wildlife.

Infecting 60 to 90 per cent of the trees in its path, the fungus causes leaf loss, bark lesions and crown dieback.

David Dench, head of conservation for the Trust, said: “Ash is a key component of Worcestershire’s woodlands and landscape.

“The best woodlands are ones with a mixture of trees – ash, for example, has a lighter canopy than oak, which means more light can reach the woodland floor.

“This results in more ground flora, which in turn supports a wider range of invertebrates, birds and mammals.

“The loss of ash trees in our woodlands may not immediately strike a passer-by but will have a major impact and longer term effect for the survival of some of our wildflowers and wildlife.”

He said Trust staff and volunteers have received information on how to identify the disease and are currently monitoring nature reserves.

He added: “As each day passes it seems inevitable that this disease will reach Worcestershire so we’re asking the public to remain vigilant and to report any suspected cases to the Forestry Commission immediately.”

Older trees often resist the disease for longer periods but succumb with prolonged exposure - while young ash trees are killed very rapidly by the disease.

Between 90 and 95 per cent of Denmark’s ash trees have been infected and the disease has spread to 21 European countries.

Mike Williams, West Midlands brown hairstreak species champion for Butterfly Conservation, said the fungus could seriously affect more than 30 species of butterfly and moth, which are dependent on ash trees in some way.

It could also impact on insect populations and hole-nesting birds such as woodpeckers and nuthatches to lichens and bryophytes for which ash is an important habitat.