THE first Hampshire case of a disease that threatens to wipe out ash trees across the country has been found.

Ash dieback has been discovered in the county more than two years after it was first found in the UK.

Hampshire had been one of the last counties in England to be free of the disease.

The first case in the county has been found at the Alice Holt Forest in north-east Hampshire.

Conservationists are worried that it could devastate the ash population in the same way that Dutch elm disease wiped out elm trees in the 1970s.

Known as Chalara fraxinea, the fungus was found after being blown over the English Channel or imported via nurseries.

It causes the crown of ash trees to blacken and wither, and can kill younger trees.

A Forestry Commission spokesman said the case is in longer-established trees rather than in trees which had been recently planted.

There is a forestry research station at Alice Holt Forest.

The spokesman said: “It is no surprise the first instance would turn up in a place like Alice Holt because it has a lot of visits by foresters and researchers.”

He said that infected trees would be cut down only if there was a public safety issue.

Ash trees make up just 1.4 per cent of Alice Holt Forest.