80 million ash trees at risk

The Government spent the weekend formulating a plan to deal with Ash Dieback, a disease now found in UK ash trees and which is threatening 80 million native ash trees all over the country

After eight months of seeming inactivity, the Government spent the weekend speedily setting plans in motion to combat what Environment Secretary Owen Paterson described as the ‘horrific danger to our 80 million trees’ from the disease Chalara fraxinea (ash dieback), which is rife in 21 countries in Europe.

It was found in fully grown trees in rural England for the first time last week in 20-year-old woodland at the Woodland Trust’s Pound Farm in Suffolk. It’s also been identified at the Lower Wood Reserve, Ashwellthorpe, run by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. It’s believed that Chalara spores could have been blown over from Europe, but it’s feared that the disease may already be widespread in private gardens through imported plants.

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Plans to strengthen a voluntary ban on the importing of ash trees were brought forward and a total ban came into force on Monday. After news that the Forestry Commission (FC) was considering culling trees in more than 480 square miles around infected sites, it emerged that some 100,000 trees had already been burnt across Britain, including 58,000 by the FC at a site in Scotland. A new tree-disease taskforce has been launched and will be led by Prof Ian Boys, Defra’s chief scientific officer. It will include academics, scientists and senior figures from the industry, which adds £10 billion a year to the economy. Staff at the FC and more than 100 Defra employees are being redeployed to focus on the crisis.

‘The woods that are of more concern are the rarer woodlands in the Peak District National Park, where the ash is dominant,’ warned Austin Brady, head of Conservation at the Woodland Trust. The trust is celebrating its 40th anniversary and looks after 1,276 woods covering 58,267 acres. It warns that rules on importing plants need to be reviewed in the light of the diseases threatening native trees such as the horse chestnut, larch and ash. The trust has stopped using imports on its own estates and is reducing this season’s planting by 100,000 trees. The FC is also suspending the planting of ash trees.

Image: www.british-trees.com

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