POTENTIAL symptoms of a disease that threatens to wipe out Britain's ash trees have been found in more than 130 sites in Scotland.
Forestry Commission Scotland has confirmed in a survey of 2730 ash sites in Scotland covering 49,709 miles, that 5% could be infected with ash dieback and will now be revisited for further inspection.
The new sites were near Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway; Montrose, Angus; Eyemouth, Berwickshire; Carrbridge, Badenoch and Strathspey; and Blairgowrie, Perthshire.
The results emerged from a major survey of Scotland's tree stocks carried out to assess the scale of Chalara ash dieback. The disease has already killed up to 90% of ash trees in some areas of Denmark.
More than 150 Forestry Commission Scotland staff and a Scottish Government team have been working round the clock to look for signs of the fungal disease.
Carol Evans, director of the Woodland Trust Scotland, said: "It's worrying that more confirmed and suspected cases of chalara ash dieback have been identified in Scotland, although given the scale of the search that has been carried out we had expected to see some.
"Hopefully we'll continue to see prompt action where infected trees have been found to try and ensure the disease doesn't spread further from these locations.
"We need the Government to develop clear guidance for landowners on the best way to tackle the pests and diseases already present. Tighter bio-security measures are also needed to stop new threats coming into the country."
The Environment and Climate Change Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, "cautiously welcomed" the results, saying "only" 5% of the sites showed any potential symptom and added: "We still need to be vigilant and there is no room for complacency.
"Further surveys, including more detailed surveys in areas around infected sites, will be needed before we can be confident about the full extent of the disease in Scotland. There is also the possibility of windborne spread of the disease from the continent and from infected sites elsewhere in these isles," he said.
Forestry Commission Scotland said the disease only spreads in summer so there is now an opportunity to take appropriate action.
There is no risk to human or animal health and there is no need to restrict public access to woodlands either, it said.
However, it advised members of the public to behave responsibly to ensure they do not inadvertently carry ash leaves from one woodland area to another.
A meeting to discuss the disease and the findings of the survey is to be hosted by Mr Wheelhouse early next week.
More than 10,000 ash trees have been destroyed in the UK during the past six weeks.
Chlara dieback of ash is caused by a fungus called Chalara fraxinea which causes leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees, and it can lead to tree death.