SCOTLAND'S larch tree population is under threat from a deadly fungal plant disease, forestry experts have warned.

Around 8000 trees are already being felled in a bid to stop the spread of Phytophora ramorum fungus, which has been discovered in a woodland estate on the west coast.

The fungus, which quickly spreads from tree to tree through spores transported in the wind, was first discovered infecting larch trees in the UK in 2002 and has progressed through the country, with Scotland and Wales said to be suffering the highest incidences of new infections this year.

The Forestry Commission has already expressed concerns that if preventative measures are not taken, Britain could see a similar epidemic to the Dutch elm disease outbreak in the 1970s, which wiped out almost the entire mature population of elm trees – around 25 million – by the 1990s.

Geoff Brown, a senior associate at forestry and land management firm Bell Ingram, said: "As larch is a deciduous conifer, it is critical estate owners arrange to have crops inspected as soon as possible before the autumn needle drop makes it impossible to identify the infection.

"Although fewer than 100 trees are infected on the estate, more than 8000 trees are being felled to contain the disease, which gives you an indication to the scale of how infectious the disease is and the precautions we need to take.

"What a lot of people might not realise is that it can be spread easily through activities like mountain biking and dog walking, as both can involve travelling through different forests with the infection being transferred by footwear or bicycle wheels."