A DEADLY tree fungus which is spreading rapidly across the UK could cost people in Flintshire as much as £5m, a new report has revealed.

Ash dieback, which is lethal to European ash trees, was first discovered in the county in 2015 by Forestry Commission staff working on the A55 at Northop.

Since then it has become commonplace and was also found in woodland near Rhydymwyn on trees cut down from underneath overhead power cables.

With an estimated 24,000 ash trees across the area, Flintshire Council has warned that 90 per cent of the county’s ash population could be wiped out.

Officials have put the cost to private landowners and farmers of removing them at anywhere between £1.2m – £5m, while there is an expected bill of £665,000 attached to felling and replacing trees on council-owned land.

In the report, the local authority’s chief officer for planning and environment said there was also a risk to public safety as a result of mature ash trees dying and falling.

Andrew Farrow said: “It is evident that since being initially recorded ash dieback is now endemic in the county.

“It is widely distributed along the Alyn and Wheeler river valleys, the Dee coastline, Greenfield Valley and A55 trunk road.

“There is a need to make the public aware that ash dieback will have a major effect in the county but in several years’ time.

“The decline and death of mature trees caused by ash dieback will make trees highly liable to failure and as a result has implications for public safety and tree related insurance claims.

“To address this increase in the level of risk it is vital that that the frequency

of council tree inspections is increased to address the danger.”

Ash dieback arrived in Europe from Asia in the 1990s and was first recorded in Britain in 2012 from an imported nursery tree.

It infects trees via airborne spores and syptoms include wilting and blackening leaves.

The council said it does not currently have enough room in its budget to deal with the issue, which a study has shown will cost the UK economy nearly £15bn

While officers will be expected to apply to the authority’s health and safety fund to partly cover costs, it is hoped the Welsh Government will make money available to tackle the disease.

Officers from Flintshire have now drawn up a plan to deal with ash dieback by prioritising areas which are most as risk.

Mr Farrow added: “Focused tree inspections on critical areas such as trunk roads, A/B roads and urban streets are the priority.

“Where it is necessary to remove or make safe infected trees on Flintshire Council highway land the work will need to be funded by the council.

“In addition to the cost of the tree works, it is expected that in most cases the removal of mature trees will require traffic management so that the works can be carried out safely.”

The report will be considered by members of the council’s environment committee next week.