A CHARITY is launching a drive to protect the historic landscapes of a national park from the rapidly-spreading Ash dieback disease.

The Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust aims to plant around 70 hectares of new woodland in the park and surrounding area this winter.

The move follows 222 confirmed findings of the disease across the UK to date, and last week Forestry Commission officials confirmed it had been found for the first time in east Lancashire, which borders the national park.

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The Forestry Commission has previously said the Chalara fraxinea fungus had been found at several sites across the region, including near Sedgefield and close to Seaham, in County Durham, as well as sites near Richmond and between Bedale and Thirsk, in North Yorkshire.

There are believed to be millions of ash trees in the Yorkshire Dales, with the species credited with giving the landscape much of its character, and the park’s authority has recently planted 250,000 ash saplings.

The trust has marked the start of the tree planting season by announcing it hopes to plant 112,000 new native broadleaf trees across almost 20 sites.

Species planted will include oak, hawthorn, blackthorn, downy birch, alder, rowan, bird cherry and goat willow. No ash trees will be planted.

David Sharrod, the trust’s director, said: “The current threat to our beautiful woodlands means that we need help more than ever to plant new native trees to create woodlands for future generations.

“Tree planting is a wonderful investment in the future of the landscape, and is at the heart of our work here at the trust.”

As around 2.5 per cent of the national park is covered with native broadleaf trees compared with the national average of 4.8 per cent, the trust is aiming to almost double the amount of broadleaf cover in the National Park to 5,000 hectares by 2020.

Mr Sharrod called on people to dedicate trees as gifts, to commemorate someone’s life of someone special, or to give something back to the natural environment.

He said: “Whatever the reason, by working together we can take a crucial step towards restoring the natural woodlands of the Dales at a time when the future of the ash population hangs in the balance.”

To dedicate trees or offer a woodland creation site, call 01524-251002 or visit ydmt.org/