Don't cut down mature ash trees, experts warn
EXPERTS attending an emergency summit on ash dieback disease have the Government to refrain from cutting down mature ash trees to stop the spread.
A survey carried out by tree experts and volunteers has revealed that the disease has spread the length of the east coast of England in the wild and is present at many other nurseries and new plantations across the rest of Britain (see below). Defra said it is likely to have been present in the country for a number of years, having been caused by spores blown over from continental Europe.
Defra Secretary Owen Paterson has acknowledged that Chalara is now so widespread it cannot be eradicated and is likely to cause ‘significant’ long-term damage to the UK’s ash population.
Speaking after Wednesday’s summit at Defra’s headquarters, he said: “This is a serious long term problem if we have an airborne disease which has come in, for which we have no cure.
“I don’t begin to underestimate the difficulties of this problem. It will be long and hard and will present a real problem for years, but we can overcome it if we work together.”
He said the summit of around 100 people, including scientists, environmental campaigners and representatives from Government agencies, produced some ‘interesting ideas on how to handle the problem.
A number of experts suggested that the focus of action should be on removing newly planted trees but that but that mature trees should not be cut down.
This was a refection that the disease is already thought to be well established in the wild and that some mature ash trees can display resistance to the disease, meaning destroying them, which is costly to landowners, could be counterproductive.
The summit also discussed the need for improved ‘awareness raising’ about the disease and continued surveying for disease and signs of resistance, using volunteers willing to help.
The ideas from the summit will be considered for possible inclusion in a Chalara action plan to be published today (November 9), Defra said.
Mr Paterson said: “Many of the ideas discussed today are extremely interesting, and our scientists and plant health experts will examine them urgently and include the most effective ones in an action plan by the end of the week.”
Commenting after the summit, Nick Phillips, the RSPB’s forestry officer, said hopes of containing the disease were ‘dwindling’ as the full extent of its spread becomes clear.
“This is devastating news, but the Government must avoid a knee-jerk reaction. It’s time for a carefully considered response to minimise any further collateral damage to our trees and wildlife.
“While it’s true that spores of this disease can be airborne, this is not the whole story. Science indicates that human movement of plants and plant material has been a key way this disease has spread across Europe. It’s critical that messages from Government help maintain public vigilance on this and other wildlife diseases. Blaming the wind as the sole disperser will not help.
Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president Harry Cotterell, who owns 350-acres of ash woodland in Herefordshire, welcomed Mr Paterson’s commitment to change priorities within Defra to help control the spread of ash tree disease.
He said ‘hands-on foresters’ in the private sector had a great deal of expertise and were best placed to monitor disease spread.
“We have asked for a culture change within Defra and the Forestry Commission so foresters are recognised as the best early detectors of tree pests and diseases. However, they must be engaged earlier to help control the spread,” he said.
He said the CLA had asked that planting grants for tree owners who have to destroy young plantations are not taken away from them.
Ash dieback survey results
- Chalara has now been confirmed in 115 sites - 15 nurseries, 39 planting sites and 61 forest and woodland locations in the wider environment.
- It has found been in woodland in Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent, Essex, Sussex, Berkshire, Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Northumberland.
- Tree experts and volunteers examined around 2,500 blocks of 10sq.km land where mature ash trees are present plus 220 ‘prioritised sites’ with saplings from nurseries where Chalara was found.
- Defra said it was likely more cases will emerge as checks continue.
- A map showing all locations with confirmed cases of Chalara and more information on the disease is available at www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara