Ash Dieback

There has been a lot of sensationalist reporting about ash dieback in the press but we are unlikely to see vast swaths of the UK becoming devoid of ash in the short to medium term, nor potentially the long term.  It is however a serious disease and one about which there is still a lot to learn. It is caused by a fungus (Chalara fraxinea) which is only known to affect ash trees.

Spread of the disease over the winter is unlikely but any risk can be further reduced by following some simple precautions:

• Do not move any wood or woody ash material within or from a woodland.
• Avoid the movement of leaves or other material from woodlands.
• Where possible, before leaving a woodland clean soil and mud, leaves and other plant material from footwear, clothing, dogs, the wheels and tyres of vehicles and remove leaves which are sticking to your car.
• Before visiting other properties thoroughly wash footwear, wheels and tyres in soapy water (or if available, Propeller Disinfectant).
• Ensure those visiting your woodlands are made aware of these precautions and follow them before they arrive.

As well as minimising the risk of spreading Chalara, the basic steps of washing off excess soil and plant material can help reduce the risk of spreading other tree and plant diseases and should be considered, where appropriate, good practice in any event.

Following the discovery of Chalara on plants imported by a nursery in Buckinghamshire in February 2012, the Forestry Commission have been investigating the spread of the disease.  Initial work focussed on sites which may have been planted with infected young trees and subsequent surveys over the whole of the UK have found, as of early November, 155 infected sites: 15 nursery sites, 55 planting sites and 85 locations in woodlands.
Infected sites have been found across the UK with concentrations in the south east and East Anglia.  Although the introduction of infected plant material was discovered earlier this year we believe it is very likely that the disease has been present in the UK for several years.

Chalara has infected large areas of Europe over the last 20 years since dieback first being recorded in Poland in 1992.  It has, in parts of Europe, infected up to 90% of ash trees although it has been noted that certain strains and species of ash show greater disease resistance.  Nurseries in Europe have been working on breeding programs to select for disease resistance to help redevelop ash crops in coming years.

Chalara is mainly spread by airborne spores with large numbers required to infect trees.  Young trees usually die back rapidly but older trees can live for many years after infection and are unlikely to dieback in the short to medium term unless stressed by some other disease or environmental condition.

There is still a lot to learn about Chalara and the Forestry Commission and DEFRA are looking closely at what we can learn from Europe as well as to better understand the extent of current spread in the UK and how long the Chalara has really been in the UK.

Woodland owners and managers can play their part by being aware of the symptoms and reporting potential cases to the Forestry Commission.  The Forestry Commission have produced a good poster detailing the symptoms as well a short video clip which are available on their website

Although disease is mainly spread by airborne spores it may also be spread by moving infected plant material.  During the winter period the likelihood of disease transmission via spores is extremely unlikely.  Spores are mainly produced from July and August and not beyond October and only remain viable for a few days.  Despite this the basic bio-security measures outlined above will help to minimise risk, particularly when the next growing season commences.

For further information please contact to Athole McKillop


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