Hundreds of trees are set to be felled at a Watford beauty spot due to a rapidly spreading disease.

Ash Dieback in Whippendell Wood, near Cassiobury Park, has taken root in certain sections and “led to the demise of 50 to 100 per cent of the ash tree canopy”, Watford Borough Council has said.

The extensive network of pathways near diseased trees have sparked health and safety fears due to them becoming highly brittle. The problem is particularly rampant at the furthest western edge of the wood, where a path runs close to nearly every ash tree.

A felling operation in the wood – which boasts a rich variety of species and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – is scheduled for January and February.

Cllr Tim Williams, portfolio holder for streets and parks, said: “The council’s commitment to preserving Whippendell Wood's 'favourable condition' status, underscores the significance of this undertaking and maintaining the ecological value of this cherished woodland area.”

Ash Dieback is a serious disease that "will kill up to 80 per cent of ash trees across the UK", according to the Woodland Trust. "At a cost of billions, the effects will be staggering. It will change the landscape forever and threaten many species which rely on ash."

Remedial work will involve a harvester, equipped with a mechanical arm, felling trees by grabbing trunks, slicing bases, removing branches and stacking logs.

Temporary closures of some paths will occur during this process but will be minimised wherever possible, the council said. Visitors will be asked to follow designated diversions.

The Woodland Trust carried out similar tasks in the adjacent wood along Rousebarn Lane last year, but further actions are still necessary in Watford due to the severe impact of the disease on the ash tree population.

Not all ash trees will be removed, with some preserved in woodland sections where they pose no risk of falling onto paths or properties. In these areas, the standing dead wood serves as a habitat for invertebrates, bats and owls.

The council said that while affected areas might temporarily appear unsightly, the increased light hitting woodland floor will promote new tree growth and woodland plants from the current seed bank.

This will guarantee that the future tree stock originates locally, it added, with the regenerating areas also creating sunny habitats for butterflies and other wildlife to flourish.

The felling will be done by the council in collaboration with forestry experts from Maydencroft Rural.