Out of the ashes: Ash dieback crisis one year on

Wood Focus magazine
16 Dec 2013

Rachel Lawler looks at developments in the situation over the past year.
It has been 12 months since the discovery of ash dieback in UK woods but still almost half the population is unaware of the disease, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by The Woodland Trust. In addition to this alarming statistic, fewer than one in three were aware of basic measures that could be taken to mitigate the problem

Chalara fraxinea was originally introduced to Europe in 1992 when it was discovered in Poland. It causes leaf loss and crown dieback and will eventually kill the host tree, although some mature trees can survive infection for a considerable length of time. The infection is spread by spores from fruiting bodies and leaf litter, and begins primarily in the leaf. By October 2012, the disease had reached the UK and numbers of infected trees have increased steadily. Here are the affects in figures so far:

UK sites infected
600 total number of cases in the UK
230 woods across the country affected
46% of UK population unaware of ash dieback
120m number of ash trees in the UK’s woods and forests
334 recently planted sites
204 established woodland
24 nursery sites
562 total
A full map of confirmed areas of infection can be viewed on the Forestry Commission website, www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-86ajqa

114 cases identified in Scotland
16 of these were in established woodland

On 25 July 2013, the disease was discovered in a section of forest safeguarded as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)at Balquhidderock in Stirling. This prompted the cutdown of saplings from the site, although landowners Scottish Natural Heritage decided to leave uninfected mature trees to preserve the area’s biodiversity.

In October 2013, The National Trust reported that trees in a Somerset
plantation had survived with ash dieback for much longer than previously
thought possible. Only 10% of the 6,000 ash trees in the Holnicote
plantation showed any signs of the disease. The trees were planted in
2001 to mark the millennium and had been imported from central Europe,
so carried the infection five years before other locations in the UK.
Although the disease is present in a nearby plantation, it does not seem
to have spread any further – defying Government predictions that
suggest it should have infected more trees by this point. While the
Trust was keen to remain realistic, it did hope that its discovery could
be good news for the UK’s tree population and could help develop
measures for slowing the spread of the fungus.

AshTag App
Launched in October 2012, this iPhone and iPad app is designed to help scientists undersand and monitor the spread of ash dieback in the UK. Directed by the University of East Anglia’s Adapt Low Carbon Group, the app allows users to physically tag and photograph infected and healthy trees, adding to a live map of the UK’s ash population. The project aims to help scientists spot resistant trees in the hope of developing methods to mitigate the impact of the disease.

With £945,000 funding from the EU, a LIFE+ project aims to provide an early warning system for pests and diseases threatening the UK’s trees. Partnering with the Woodland Trust and the National Trust, the scheme invites members of the public and voluntary bodies to report incidents of pest damage or fungal infection. Volunteers from forestry, horticulture and arboriculture backgrounds will be trained to inspect sites reported by the public and feed back results to the project. This information will create a library on incidents and help track threats as they occur. For more information, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/observatree