Farmers and landowners are beginning to see the deterioration in hedgerow ash trees and woodlands and plantations planted with ash as a result of the Ash Dieback disease.

This is now an increasing problem across the countryside, but the ash tree has been one of the most popular farm trees over generations.

While some trees may still be immune from the disease, most will gradually die and become a risk, so felling may be the only solution.

John and Ingrid Brownlee, from near Newtownbutler, began felling mature ash trees and woodlands planted with ash earlier this spring as a result of their worsening state due to Ash Dieback.

As the trees were felled, leading to a loss of habitat and biodiversity, they said it "broke their hearts" but they felt the trees could have become a danger in the future.

However, they have both been critical of DAERA's handling of the Ash Dieback disease and the support measures for farmers and landowners.

While the disease originated in parts of eastern Europe in the 1990s, it was not confirmed in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland or the remainder of the United Kingdom until 2012.

A statement from DAERA read: "Ash dieback was first confirmed in Northern Ireland on young trees in November, 2012, and in the Republic of Ireland in October, 2012, the disease having been earlier confirmed in the UK in February, 2012.

"Both DAERA and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine introduced emergency legislation in October, 2012 banning the importation of ash trees for planting, to mitigate risks of the disease becoming established and spreading on the island of Ireland.

"As a further measure, the Department undertook tracing exercises to identify affected recently planted sites and required the removal and destruction of ash trees under the Plant Health Order.

"Assistance was provided to woodland owners to remove and dispose of ash from affected sites.

"Unfortunately, consistent with earlier experiences throughout affected European countries, extensive presence of ash dieback disease was confirmed in NI in the wider environment.

"Since 2016, ash dieback was declassified as a quarantine pest under EU and UK plant health legislation."

DAERA then referred to various support arrangements in place including the Forest Protection Scheme which states that the average height of ash trees covered by the support was under 10 metres high, and that ash must constitute more than 20 per cent within each field planted. The area must be replanted with alternative species of trees.

John and Ingrid Brownlee said they have had to fund the felling largely from their own resources, bringing in specialist equipment of excavators fitted with tree shears.

Some of the woodland is around 18 years old, with other younger plantations of just over 12 years old. They intend to replant with oak, cherry and beech.

Any funding support they receive will go towards the cost of hiring the contractors to fell and replant, but it does not offer any financial compensation to the farmer for the loss of the woodland who planted to benefit the natural environment.

The Brownlees say the UK government is doing little to encourage farmers to plant woodlands, as the country has one of the worst percentages of tree covers of any other country in Europe.