As a local arborist and forestry worker, I should perhaps not be shocked by the devastation being caused by the ‘Ash Dieback’ pandemic sweeping through our native woodlands, parks and roadsides. But I for one have severely underestimated this disease and its impact on our familiar and beautiful British landscape.
Ash dieback is a fungal disease called ‘Hymenoscyphus fraxineus’, originally native to eastern Asia, it was first identified and reported on in 2012, although other research has indicated it may have been around from as early as 2005 in the UK.
The common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) tree species has been at the centre of our national ecology for a good few thousand years, and in a relatively short space of time we are witnessing its decline with shocking speed. It has been said that we may not lose all of this species, but an astonishing and truly jaw dropping figure of around 80% has been quoted by ‘The Woodland Trust’, and at a the cost of around 15 Billion pounds to the UK economy.
‘Dieback’ has now been reported in most parts of England and the wider UK and people who manage Ash near roads, railways, buildings and other publicly accessible land must consider the risks posed by infected ash’ (Forestry Commission 2021). Our appeal now is to those landowners, estate managers and general public to risk assess and manage your trees as quickly as possible, if not already doing so.
In ideal situations tree’s may be felled and the brash burned or stored in the same woodland (the fungus is airborne so reducing the foot traffic through public sites to help prevent cross contamination should help). The timber is fine and can be salvaged for firewood and/or planking for example. I myself have felled around 20 tree’s in the last few days and every single one has had core rot in the butt end, not always visible from external inspection or from foliage at this time of year (Feb 22).
This disease can hide well so please check out the ‘Woodland Trust’ website for more details of how to spot the disease.
In Britain it is now law that the owner of land where a tree stands is responsible for the health and safety of those who could be injured or affected by the tree. If you’re not sure about health and safety risks attached to the disease and other tree diseases affecting your property then please, please consult a tree management professional or arborist that holds the relevant qualifications.
Perhaps, if we attempt a combined and collaborated effort to manage this issue, we give the remaining pockets of healthy trees the chance to repopulate the nation in the coming 50 or 60 years. It’s so important that the effects of ash dieback are recognised and acted upon immediately, especially in safety-critical locations like roadside and public woodland or parks. It’s all of our responsibilities as professionals and land owners to manage and act, we may just save some of these magnificent tree’s for future generations.