Safety warning as clearance work begins in popular South Downs woods

Hundreds of tonnes of dead wood is being hauled out from Horseshoe Woods, near Steyning, as trees continue to be attacked by ash dieback disease.

This devastating fungus has already claimed large swathes of the popular woods and the trees that form an iconic part of the South Downs landscape are still under threat.

The Steyning Downland Scheme has had to act fast to protect the many walkers in this valued area from the threat of trees collapsing.

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Matthew Thomas, project manager, said: “At a time when the human world has been dealing with the effects of a global pandemic, the natural world has also been under attack.

Steyning Downland Scheme's ash dieback clearance along the Lower Horseshoe footpath. Picture: Matthew Thomas

“Many people use our popular area of unique downland near Steyning for solace and recreation. With the large numbers of local walkers who use the Horseshoe, we knew we had to act as quickly as possible.”

Starting on Monday, contractors working for the charity will begin hauling out hundreds of tonnes of dead ash wood.

The work will take several weeks and is part of an ongoing programme to make the popular woods safe for visitors.

Matthew said: “Ash dieback is a horrendous disease. It quickly kills off otherwise healthy ash trees and makes them prone to sudden collapse without warning.

The effects of ash dieback disease. Picture: Matthew Thomas

“All the infected ash trees within at least 10 metres of the paths were felled earlier this year. Although the wood has now been sold to a local woodsman, the overall cost of the work will still run into thousands of pounds.

“We really just want to get on with our core job of conserving wildlife and helping local people to discover their local downland but making the land safe for our visitors is now top priority – and it’s only just begun.

“We still need to clear a lot more ash trees from the northern end of the woods and these are much more difficult to get to and fell safely.”

Ash dieback first began to have a serious impact in the Steyning woods in 2018. By autumn 2019, around two thirds of all the trees on the Horseshoe were dead or dying.

People are advised to take extra care when walking the Lower Horseshoe footpath while the trees are being cleared and to avoid the woods altogether in windy weather because of the danger that weakened trees may collapse without warning.

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