More than 500 trees were lined up for the chop due to Dutch elm disease last year – with almost half of them on private land.
Now officials have unveiled plans to implement a little-used power that allows them to enter private grounds – including homeowners’ gardens – and destroy diseased trees themselves, charging the cost back to the landowner.
In a report set to go before councillors tomorrow, officials said there had been a “significant increase” in the proportion of infections on private land since 2014. They insisted: “This is largely due to a number of individuals or businesses who have so far failed to take action, with 73 infected trees not felled and being allowed to spread infection further.
“It is now deemed necessary to use the enforcement action that is available to the council.”
The Dutch elm disease (Local Authorities) Order 1984 will allow the council to carry out the tree works – including felling and burning – if landowners fail to take the appropriate action themselves within a certain time limit. A spokeswoman said the cost of works will depend on the size and location of the tree.
The drastic move – which has not been used for a number of years – comes on the back of the discovery of the deadly “Chalara dieback of ash” in the city last year, as well as a host of new threats such as “Bleeding canker of horse chestnut”, caused by bacteria.
In the same report, officials admitted they could do little to halt the spread of Chalara, adding: “Ultimately, this could affect the vast majority of Edinburgh’s ash population, which is cautiously estimated to be about 37,000 trees.”
But they said efforts to contain the fungal disease and protect trees in the city’s parks and gardens – including the majestic weeping ashes in Princes Street Gardens – should be made.
Mike Charkow, owner of leading city tree consultants AV Arboriculture, said Dutch elm disease was still “a big issue” across the Lothians.
He said: “There’s still a lot of trees getting felled because of Dutch elm. It’s like having a cold – if you go into an office with a cold you spread it.”
And while he admitted the spread of Chalara was “pretty much impossible” to contain, he said it “wasn’t all doom and gloom”, adding: “It will kill off a lot of the young trees, but the older trees can survive.”
Green Councillor Chas Booth said it was appropriate for the council to use its enforcement powers where private owners were not taking their responsibilities seriously.
He said: “Our trees are in many respects the lungs of the city. I think it’s disappointing that private owners are not voluntarily taking the action that’s required to protect trees against particularly virulent diseases.”
Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s environment leader, said: “It is really important that we look after Edinburgh’s wonderful tree legacy for future generations and so we will continue to take all necessary precautions when dealing with trees affected by Chalara ash dieback and Dutch elm disease. We would also encourage private landowners who have trees on their properties to look for the signs and comply with current advice and regulations.”