TENS of thousands of Oldham’s trees could be killed off by a deadly tree fungus, it’s been revealed.

More than a tenth of trees in the borough are thought to be potentially afflicted by "ash dieback", an incurable disease that kills or weakens ash trees.

Concerns were raised at a scrutiny meeting that for every tree that dies, another broadleaf replacement will be needed, with the cost landing back on the town hall.

Councillors pointed out that trees play a major role in reducing air pollution, but a tree planting programme is not being considered as part of the Greater Manchester clean air plan.

Ash dieback, or by its proper name "Chalara dieback" kills younger plants and weakens more established trees, making them vulnerable to other infections.

The ash tree is among the four most commons species in Oldham, along with the spruce, alder and larch.

St James ward Cllr Cath Ball said: “For every one that dies we’ve got to plant some more broadleaf trees but there’s a major cost to that as well, but we have to do it.”

She added that trees had been proven to tackle particulates, a form of air pollution in the form of dust created from predominantly road transport.

“There was some research that I saw where of ten houses, they put five trees in pots and five houses without the trees in front, and they did swabs on people’s televisions in the front room,” Cllr Ball said.

“Then they grew what was on it and then did the same thing so many months later, and the difference was literally 50 per cent down of all the particulates on people’s TV screen.

“The trees were absorbing the particulates and that to me was quite stunning really.”

The dieback disease is spread by released spores and has swept across Europe over the past 20 years, affecting about 70 per cent of ash in woodland, and was first identified in the UK in 2012.

Symptoms of the lethal fungus include lesions at the base of dead side shoots, wilting and lost leaves and a killing off of new growth on mature trees.

As part of a local resolution to transform Oldham into the ‘greenest borough’, bosses are pledging to take action beyond the scope of the GM clean air plan – including tree planting.

“Growing trees in key sites in the borough to dampen pollution effects and make more liveable places,” the report states.

The council also says there are opportunities for incentivising the use of electric vehicles, and reducing air pollution around schools at pick up and drop off times.

Neil Crabtree, head of public protection at the town hall, added: “Trees per se, they do tackle air pollution.

“They tackle the carbon issue, they don’t tackle nitrogen dioxide in fact some trees don’t favour very well when they’re close to roads, depending on the species.

“But that’s not to say that we don’t need to promote that as a health side.”

Chair of the committee Cllr Colin McLaren added: “Maybe we take that to leadership at some stage and say "can we find some money for trees".

“The government’s saying we’re not paying for trees, so we’re going to have to think of another way of planting trees.”

Oldham council estimate around 12 per cent of their trees will be affected by ash dieback.

A spokesperson said they have planted thousands of 30cm saplings over recent years at locations such as Snipe Clough.

“We are also in the process of planting 121 heavy standards this year,” they said.

“We are working closely with City of Trees and have planted a few thousand transplants on Crompton Moor with several thousand more planned.”

These "heavy standards" would measure 6ft to 10ft high.

In total the meaures will create around three hectares of new woodland, bosses say.

In 2017 there were an estimated 466,800 trees across the whole of Oldham.

If 12 per cent die or have to be cut down after succumbing to ash die, that would equate to more than 56,000.

A recent survey – which split the UK into 10km grid squares – found ash dieback infections had been confirmed across 80 per cent of Wales, 68 per cent of England, 32 per cent of Northern Ireland and 20 per cent of Scotland.