The National Trust today admitted it had lost its battle to save one of the most impressive avenues of horse chestnut trees from a killer disease that could mark the end of the British conker.
Expert tree surgeons have felled 68 of the magnificent specimens that line the drive to stately Barrington Court over the past two years-with the last 23 falling yesterday.
The spectacular 93-year-old trees were infected with bleeding canker, a virulent fungus that produces a red rust-coloured liquid that oozes from the bark and eventually kills the host.
Bleeding canker and the devastating effects of the destructive leaf miner moth are threatening the very existance of all horse chestnut trees in Britain and could kill off the conker.
Leaf miner moths and ‘conker cancer’ have affected more than half of the UK’s two million horse chestnuts – and continue to infest trees at an alarming rate.
Scientists from the University of Hull and University of Bristol said the moth infestation alone has spread at up to 60km per year since 2002.
The National Trust is planning to replace the avenue at Barrington Court, Ilminster, Somerset, with resistant Chestnut Leaved Oaks.
Christine Brain, National Trust head Gardener at Barrington, said: ”We’ve been doing a lot of work to find the best species of tree to plant which will also be resistant to disease while also looking right in the location.
”We are planning to use a Chestnut Leaved Oak which should do well at Barrington and is a very suitable replacement for the Chestnut.”
The Trust will also commission replicas of original ornate treeguards to continue the great impressions made by the avenue in the approach to the Tudor manor house.
The wrought iron structures will copy the design of the original tree guards on the avenue.