There is a good chance that you have heard of Larch Disease. Larch is a common and abundant resource in Wales, and the trees are currently under attack from an invasive disease to which they have little immunity. It is in fact a bit like Dutch Elm disease, or Ash Dieback. These tree diseases have seen elms practically eradicated from the UK, and the numbers of Ash plummet. If you live in a rural area of Wales there is a good chance that you have already encountered larch being felled in great numbers.
In this post we’ll explore what Larch disease is, what current Welsh government policy is to manage it, and how this affects Tŷ Pren and other timber builders in Wales. We’ll also explain what changes we’d like to see to the policy, and how you can help us utilise this valuable resource for low impact and zero carbon construction.
What is Larch Disease?
In Latin the disease is called. Phytophthora Ramorum. It is an oomycete, which is a type of algae in the Protist family, a single cell organism similar to green algae. It is a plant pathogen that has spread globally. It does not just affect Larch, but other species. It has been responsible for the decimation of the Oak populations of Oregon and California. The disease in Oak is known as Sudden Oak Death. The symptoms of disease in an affected tree include distinctive cankerous sores that bleed, and dieback of the leaves and foliage. An infected tree often dies.
It also infects plants such as the Rhododendron, and infectious spores grow inside them which exacerbates the spread of the disease which can then be transmitted in rainsplash and rainwater.
There are no known treatments for the disease, so once an infection is spotted the tree is felled, and disposed of, as are the trees nearby, which may not even be infected.
How Are The Welsh Government Managing Larch Disease?
The issue with Phytophthora Ramorum is that it does not just attack one species. Oak has been affected, as has Douglas Fir, and Sweet Chestnut. This spells bad news for the larch. Until recently just one case of confirmed Phyophthora in larch resulted in felling orders- and every larch in the vicinity of an infected tree, 100m square, would need to be disposed of. To prevent the spread of the disease, and further interspecies infection, the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales plan to fell ALL larch by 2030. This larch is then sold to the highest bidder, usually for chipping and biomass incineration. Infected Larch can still be used, however, for roundwood timber frame construction, as Phytophthora does not live in the wood used when building with roundwood, but the bark and brash.
What Does This Mean For Tŷ Pren and the Welsh Timber Frame Building Industry?
In short, it is not good news. Not good news at all. Tŷ Pren build extensively with larch as it is cheap, durable, strong, and thermally efficient, fast growing, and abundant. We fell only the trees we need, managing the woodlands, and replanting areas with broadleaf when appropriate. While other types of timber can be used they are not as readily available, or fast growing as Larch. In short- in the next few years as it stands, Tŷ Pren will be forced out of business. Unless we can change the policy to fell all larch, or secure 100s of tonnes of larch to tide us over while replacement trees grow for 20 years plus. Sadly at present we do not have the storage for Larch in that quantity, and we lack the lobbying profile to change government policy in such a short time frame.
This is tragic, not just because it affects our livelihoods, but because we have developed a zero carbon zero waste affordable means of house building, that is capable of being scaled up to meet the housing needs of Welsh communities the length and breadth of the nation, creating jobs, skills, and wealth. To see this potentially blighted causes us considerable concern and sadness.
How Can You Help ?
If you are a business, individual, or organisation affected by the Welsh clear felling Larch policy please get in touch. If we can work and communicate together our voices will be louder and more clearer. We can explore lobbying for policy change or adaptation together.
We are also looking for premises to store larch, in a dry area, for future use. If you know of anywhere that might be suitable please get in touch.
If you are a policy maker, or civil servant, sympathetic to our dilemma please do get in touch if you can offer advice or assistance.