A FIGHTBACK against a major outbreak of ash dieback on trees along the M6 and M56 has started.

The ash dieback fungus is now found across most of the UK, impacting shoots, branches and trunk base and causing canopy decline and the death of most affected trees.

A £2million National Highways programme to tackle the problem over the next four months is getting underway at dozens of locations including along the M6, M56, A56 and M58.

Dead and dying trees will be removed to make areas safe, while contractors will also carry out general environmental management and plant new trees.

The aim is to complete the works ahead of spring and the bird nesting season. To keep disruption to a minimum, some works will be carried out overnight with one or two-lane closures.

Chloe O’Hare, National Highways environmental manager, said: “Ash dieback has started to affect trees on our land.

“We have been monitoring its spread where symptoms have become more severe and are making every effort to minimise its impact.

“We want to do everything we can to preserve the biodiversity of our soft estate, but at the same time, we need to make sure everybody using our land, on or off road, is safe.

“We want to prolong tree life through careful management. This includes pruning, removing branches, reducing the size of trees and thinning out smaller trees to allow others the space to grow.

“We will only remove ash trees if we must – when an affected tree is a safety hazard because it is either dying or already dead.

“Where we can, we will replace trees to reduce the impact of the disease on the environment.”

National Highways is responsible for 30,000 hectares of land which includes significant areas of woodland alongside the road network.

Ivan Le Fevre, head of environment strategy for National Highways, added: “We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and are one of the largest tree planting organisations in the UK, with plans to plant an extra three million trees by 2030.

“We only cut back or fell trees where it is essential to keep people safe, protect the environment or where it is necessary to allow us to deliver schemes that improve journeys.

“Along areas of our network in the north west, in common with other parts of the UK, the severity of ash dieback has been increasing.

“Trees pose a safety risk, which means the management of trees is necessary to protect the landscape and all those who use our network.”