Ash Dieback

Recent news regarding a potential mass culling of Ash trees due to the fungus Chalara fraxinea has revealed a potential disaster for the British countryside.

Recently identified in imported saplings as early as February this year it begs belief why more has not been done sooner? To date several mature woodlands owned by The Woodland Trust in Suffolk and Norfolk have now also been found to be infected.

It would be unlikely that these are the only outbreaks and more might reasonably be expected to be found in privately owned woodlands where the owners may be unaware of the symptoms and do not possess the expertise to spot the signs.  

A ban on imported saplings is likely to be in place by next week however it does raise the question why this was not done earlier? That said some experts feel it is possible that with much of Europe already infected the fungus may have been carried by the wind hence the first signs being found on the east coast of England closer to the infected regions of Europe.  

Though little is known about the actual Fungus the possible repercussions are in evidence in countries such as Denmark where 90% of Ash Trees have been wiped out in a seven year period.

For many the threat will bring back memories of Dutch Elm disease which decimated Elm trees in the 1970's. However the potential risk to our woodlands is perhaps worse in this instance with as much as 30% of British woodland consisting of Ash. What is clear is that if a wide scale cull of Ash trees is carried out it will dramatically change our countryside.

Whilst I do not wish to trivialise this threat by considering only the effect on British Deer it is none the less a significant worry for UK Deer Managers. Clearly the most important habitat for deer is woodland, the loss of which has a detrimental effect on their ability to thrive. In the event of a wide scale cull of Ash trees some species of deer will be affected more than others however it is likely that all the UK's deer species will be disrupted in one form or another by the associated disturbance and loss of cover.  

Until further guidelines are published it is clearly in the interests of all countryside managers that this fungus be contained and so for those that go about their daily business amongst our woodlands a monitoring of Ash trees along with an awareness of the symptoms should be encouraged.

Symptoms include leaf loss and crown die back. Mature trees initially display dieback of the shoots and twigs at the periphery of their crowns. Dense clumps of foliage may be seen further back on branches where recovery shoots are produced. Diseased saplings typically display dead tops and/or side shoots. At the base of the dead side shoots lesions can often be found.

For more information and a picture guide see the following related link to the forestry commission website:$FILE/Symptoms_guide_Chalara_dieback_of_ash_2012.pdf



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