Fungus strikes down stately home's shrubs
Gardeners at a historic Westcountry property are dismayed by the loss of their rhododendrons to a virulent plant disease.
Two major clumps are the latest casualties of phytophthora ramorum, a fungus-like blight which is sweeping the country, threatening woodlands, heathlands and historic gardens.
Acting on the advice of the Food & Environment Research Agency the infected rhododendrons at Arlington Court, near Barnstaple, are being removed and destroyed.
Most of the affected plants are by the pond and can be clearly identified in early black and white photographs of Arlington.
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They are thought to date back to the early 19th century.
Each year the stunning cerise pink blooms of rhododendron Cynthia frame the view of St James' Church in the background and are reflected in the still waters of the pond.
It is an iconic view which many visitors to the estate will have photographed over the years.
The other area most affected will be the main lawn in front of the house, where the remains of a wild rhododendron is also due to be removed.
Gardener Sue Luker, who has worked at the site for six years, said: "It is a terrible shame to have to remove these plants and it goes against our intuitive guardianship of the garden and its iconic views.
"They are big and old and have been there a long time, which is why we are worried about the impact it is going to have.
"It is devastating that we will never see these plants flower again, but it does provide us with new opportunities to refresh parts of the garden."
Over the past eight years the Arlington gardens team have removed around three acres of rhododendron from the garden, and a further 40 from the wider estate, leaving vast areas of empty space .
The disease also affects larch trees, and an additional 30 acres of larch have been lost from Arlington's landscape in the last 12 months.
In 2009, sites in North and West Devon were tested by the Forestry Commission and the presence of phytophthora ramorum was confirmed.
Since then the disease has been discovered at sites in Lancashire, Cumbria, Derbyshire and in parts of Scotland.
It is the landowner's responsibility to inform the authorities when a suspected case of phytophthora is found and immediate removal and burning is currently being used as the swiftest means of trying to prevent further outbreaks.
Sue added: "Several National Trust properties have the same problem; it is not just us."
Outside contractors have been brought in to help Arlington staff remove and burn the diseased plants.
Ian Wright, the National Trust's plant health adviser, said: "We'll continue to work with our partners, including FERA and the Forestry Commission, to control this virulent plant disease which has affected so many of our gardens and now woodlands as well as costing our organisation hundreds of thousands of pounds to control.
"The spread of Phytophthora ramorum into woodlands is a real concern as it represents a significant and worrying progression of a disease that was, up to 2009, predominately garden-focused."