APPROXIMATELY 14,000 trees across Salisbury Plain are to be felled after contracting a viral fungal disease.

Ash Dieback, an incurable disease affecting ash trees across the country, has infected many of the woodlands across the famous chalk plateau.

Now, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) – which looks after the Ministry of Defence's estates – says in order to protect the future of uninfected trees, infected ashes across 250 locations will be removed.

A replanting scheme will also take place to replace those trees which are cut down.

Working in partnership with contractor Landmarc, felling will begin imminently. The first phase will focus on Ashdown Copse and along the A345.

Jeremy Kalkowski, DIO’s senior forester, said: “We are working closely with Landmarc, the Forestry Commission and Natural England to protect the public and estate users, remove hazards and reduce the impact on the wider environment. Where possible, we will use this as an opportunity to enrich and improve our woodland resource.

“We are felling the minimum number of trees to reduce risk to an acceptable level and only in areas where there is a clear risk of harm to people.

“The MOD takes conservation very seriously and we are committed to completing a replanting scheme to replace felled ash trees with a range of native species trees.”

There is currently no cure or treatment for the Ash Dieback, and over time infected trees will weaken, causing branches to fall and trees to eventually collapse and die. This, the DIO says, presents a "significant health and safety risk, especially alongside roads, public rights of way and woodland areas used by the public for recreation activities and soldiers for training".

Infection can lead to the death of young trees in just two to three years and of mature trees within three to five years.

The DIO says work will take place in phases and should be completed in approximately three years.

The first phase of felling will target Ashdown Copse and along the A345, and will run until the end of March 2020, when work will stop to protect nesting birds.

Phase two will begin in September 2020 to continue work at Ashdown Copse, as well as other locations where Ash Dieback has been identified including Erlestoke, Everleigh, Heytesbury, Warminster and along neighbouring roadsides.

Sites where work is taking place will be closed to the public for safety reasons, and areas available for recreation will be signed as open to the public.

Chris Sorensen, south west woodland resilience officer, from the Forestry Commission said: "Since ash dieback was identified in 2012, we have been working with a range of stakeholders and have invested more than £37million into tree health research, including funding research into the biology and pathology of the disease.

“We encourage all owners of woodland to think strategically about the management of their ash trees and adopt best practice to help reduce the impact of the disease.

“The DIO consulted with us and agreed a plan of action to tackle this damaging tree disease which includes the commencement of felling operations in the interests of public safety.”

Judith Peachey, Landmarc’s forestry harvesting and marketing and arboriculture advisor added: “Sadly, the felling of trees with Ash Dieback is a necessary step to protect the public and all other training estate users.

"We would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank our local communities for their support by adhering to any site safety signs and not entering any areas where forestry work is taking place.

"Trees are only being felled where we must and unaffected trees will remain to support the biodiversity associated with ash."