Britain's Ash Trees Threatened by Disease

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Ash trees make up almost one third of Britain's tree stock--there are 80 million of them--and they are under threat from a deadly disease which is sweeping the forests. After much obfuscation from the government, it now appears that a staggering 100,000 trees have already been destroyed in an effort to stop the spreading.

The tree is the fourth most common in the countryside so this poses a terrible threat to the UK’s forests and to trees growing in parks and gardens. The first cases were discovered almost eight months ago. They came on trees imported from the Netherlands.

But it has also been found on British ash trees and it is thought that it can also be carried by the wind or be lying dormant for years.

Forestry Commission/Promo image

Called Chalara fraxinea, it is a fungus that causes leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees, and it can lead to tree death.

First found in Poland 20 years ago, the fungus has gradually spread across Europe, reaching Denmark in 2002. There it led to estimated losses of between 60 and 90 per cent of Denmark’s ash trees.

amandabhslater/CC BY 2.0

The disease will devastate the landscape because if it spreads the trees will either die and rot or have to be destroyed, leaving huge gaps in forests and harming the wider eco-system, as they provide homes for birds, insects and mammals. It is second only to the oak tree in its popularity in the British countryside.

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For now, all imports of the tree have been stopped. No further planting of the trees in public forests will take place. A commission has been set up to examine the whole matter.

The Woodland Trust says:

Ash dieback is only one of numerous tree pests and diseases in the UK. With more than 15 separate pests and diseases listed on the Forestry Commission website as already present [in the UK], it is crucial that the wider issue is tackled. The government must set up an emergency summit bringing together representatives from all areas of forestry, plant health and conservation – because today it's ash, but tomorrow yet another of our precious native trees could be at risk.

Tags: Conservation | Diseases | England | Forestry

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