Ash tree dieback

Posted: Tuesday 6 November 2012
by Pippa Greenwood

The spread of chalara dieback of ash trees is such a tragedy. But I’m glad that this potentially devastating infection is finally being taken seriously.

Stem canker on an ash sapling, caused by chalar dieback

The spread of chalara dieback of ash trees, which has recently hit the headlines, is such a tragedy. But I’m glad that this potentially devastating infection is finally being taken seriously and an import ban has now been put in place.

As I look out onto a lovely piece of Hampshire hillside, largely covered with oak, beech and ash, it makes me want to scream. What will it look like in a year or two? As far as we know, the infection isn’t here right now, but perhaps it’s still in its early stages and we’re simply not aware of it yet.

With an estimated 30 per cent or more of our native tree cover said to be ash (Fraxinus excelsior), the Chalara fraxinea fungus really does have the potential to alter our landscape. The ‘Pendula’ form, more commonly grown as a garden tree, is also susceptible, so gardens too are at risk. But it’s our natural areas that we should be worrying about most.

Symptoms start with dark patches developing on individual leaves, and then a discoloration that spreads into twigs and larger branches, followed by cankers or lesions on these woody areas. So we know the signs to look out for. We’ve been told to wash our dogs and children (and presumably ourselves) after country walks and before walking in new areas, and yet we also know that the spores may be carried on the wind and of course also on trees (especially young ones, transplants and saplings). 

The importation of ash trees has been banned, but unfortunately too late. Meanwhile growers and nurserymen struggle (and potentially fail) as the disease is found in more and more UK locations, which means that vast numbers of trees and nursery stocks have to be destroyed. 

So yes, let’s all take the necessary precautions and raise everyone’s awareness of the disease whenever we can. And let’s all aim to buy British-grown plants now and in the future, to support British growers and nurserymen and to reduce the risk of yet another devastating plant disease entering the country from abroad.

If you think you spot chalara dieback disease in ash trees, please report it to either of the following:

Forestry Commission Plant Health Service
0131 314 6414

Fera Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate
01904 465625

Browning of ash leaf tip caused by Chalara fraxinea fungus

Images courtesy of Fera

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donutsmrs 06/11/2012 at 17:46

I think it is so sad about these lovely trees and that the powers that be could have done something a long time ago. Had they done so, we would not be in this mess now. How long though are they going to keep the importation of Ash trees ban in place, not long enough is my guess.

nutcutlet 06/11/2012 at 17:58

Seems daft to import them in the first place. Hundreds, maybe thousands get weeded out of my garden every year. 

Dovefromabove 06/11/2012 at 18:04

I'm absolutely devastated - the ash has been a huge part of my life - I spent my childhood in a place called Ashfield - we chose this house largely because of the mature ash trees in the garden - from the looks of things we're right in line for the disease to affect us soon 

Alina W 06/11/2012 at 22:07

Unfortunately, with an airborne fungus, it was always a matter of time. All that we can hope is that some trees are resistant.

Lovetogarden 07/11/2012 at 09:01

We live about 10 miles from Wragby, Lincolnshire a place where the fungus has been found. It is an very wooded area, and on our way to Lincoln, a distance of about 2 miles, we estimated that 7 out of 10 trees are Ash.It will be catastophic if the virus spreads to our area, as it will to any part of the country, there would be very few native trees left.

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