Gardeners could be hit with bills of up to £1,000 for removal of trees hit by ash dieback.

Experts say the disease (Chalara fraxinea), which threatens to wipe out Britain’s 80 million ash trees, could be as bad as Dutch Elm Disease, which killed 25 million trees in the 1970s and 80s. 

The Government was warned about ash dieback in 2009 – but officials failed to act.

Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) director Tim Briercliffe told AG: “In 2009, a group of tree growers went on a study tour to Denmark.

“They were concerned about what they saw [ash dieback]. We filed a report to the Forestry Commission and requested a ban on the import of ash.

“However, the Government told us it believed the disease was endemic in the EU and UK, and it couldn’t act on it.”

In fact, ash dieback was not confirmed in England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland until this February. But in Denmark it has killed 90 per cent of ash trees.

The HTA said homeowners face big bills for removal of dead and dying ash trees in gardens.

“It would cost £600 to £1,000 to have a tree removed,” Tim explained. Home insurance will not cover the cost.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) finally banned imports of ash (saplings, trees and seeds) last month.

Head of the Forestry Commission’s Plant Health Service, Dr John Morgan, said: “This is a precaution to protect Britain from further introductions while we assess the situation.”

The RSPB pointed out that birds, bats, fungi, plants and insects use ash. It said the disease could “damage ecosystems in a big way”.

As AG went to press, the Government’s emergency COBRA committee met to discuss the ash disease crisis.

Ministers heard that 100,000 trees had already been felled in a bid to try to prevent further spread of the disease.