DOORSTEP conmen in the New Forest are cashing in on a deadly fungal disease that is threatening to devastate Britain’s ash trees.

Fraudsters posing as tree surgeons are targeting pensioners and offering to fell “infected”

trees for cash.

At least one person has handed over money after falling victim to the scam.

It follows an outbreak of Chalara fraxinea, also known as ash dieback.

No cases have yet been detected in the New Forest – but that has not stopped rogue traders from preying on the elderly.

Community safety officer Norman Bareham said: “I’m hearing alarming tales about men with trucks and ladders knocking on doors, telling people their tree is affected by ash dieback and saying it needs to be taken down very quickly.”

The fraudsters are thought to have struck in several parts of the Forest, including Hythe.

Cllr Maureen Robinson, chairman of the parish council, said: “We’re appalled at the criminal behaviour of people preying on the more vulnerable members of our community.”

The Safer New Forest Partnership (SNFP) is urging householders to ask for ID if anyone claiming to be a trader knocks on their door, and to ring 999 if callers act suspiciously or refuse to leave.

Ash dieback has been found at more than 130 sites across the UK.

But a Forestry Commission spokesman said: “We don’t require infected mature ash trees to be cut down immediately because they take a long time to die, they’re valuable to wildlife in the meantime and can help us spot Chalara-resistant strains of ash trees.

“Clearly a diseased tree that is becoming unsafe should be pruned or removed but no Chalara has yet been confirmed in the Forest.”