A GOVERNMENT ban on the import of ash trees into the UK has been imposed in a bid to stop the spread of a disease that could remove the ash tree from the British landscape.

The ban will prevent ash plants, trees and seeds being brought into the country, and movement restrictions will stop trees from infected areas being moved elsewhere, as part of efforts to stop the spread of Chalara ash dieback, caused by the Chalara fraxinea fungus.

The UK Government also revealed 100,000 ash trees have been felled in an effort to stop the spread of the deadly disease.

The disease was first identified in ash trees in the UK in nurseries and recently planted sites, including a car park and a college campus, and last week officials confirmed it had been found in the wider countryside in East Anglia.

There are now an estimated 80 million ash trees in the UK.

It has all but wiped out ash in Denmark, Poland and Lithuania and has come into the UK through saplings imported from Europe.

However, the real worry is if it appears in established woodlands and cases confirmed in trees in East Anglia do not appear to be associated with recent plantings of nursery-supplied plants.

The discovery has increased fears that one of the country's most common native trees faces the same fate as the elm, which was devastated by Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.

The disease has also been confirmed among trees planted in 2009 in a Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) woodland at Knockmountain, less than a mile north of Kilmacolm near Port Glasgow. The 500-acre forest acquired by FCS in 2007 has 50 acres of mixed broad leaves including 58,000 ash plants out of the 217,200 young trees planted.

And last night FCS confirmed another case in Scotland among newly planted trees, this time further north.

It said: "There has been a confirmed nursery infection in the north-east of Scotland. A Statutory Plant Health Notice was issued on September 28 and the trees are to be destroyed by the end of October."

Although there are only 12,355 acres of "pure" ash woodland in Scotland, compared to 1.63 mil-lion acres of largely conifer woodland managed by FCS, the species is a significant component of the country's 153,205 acres of "mixed broadleaved" woodland.

FCS is calling on Scotland's woodland managers to check the health of their trees and report any suspicious symptoms without delay.

UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: "This is a very serious disease that demands action to stop its spread. I have ordered both an import ban and movement restrictions on trees from infected areas. This comes into force immediately."

An FCS spokesman said: "The import and movement ban is a welcome move that will give us the breathing space to reinforce the swift action we have already taken in Scotland and let us better assess the position across the country."

However, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) raised concerns that the ban did not cover imports of firewood and woodchip, even though moving firewood from infected areas within the UK had been prohibited.

President Harry Cotterell also warned ash dieback was one of a number of diseases threatening the survival of the UK's native trees.

He said: "The Government's Tree Health Action Plan is clearly not working. Import controls need to be strengthened and the Government must react faster as tree pests and diseases are identified."