We usually try and find something nice and exciting to write about – great design, fantastic interiors and landscapes, seasonality and craftspeople, but every so often we find ourselves writing about a pressing issue which is not as nice, like Ash dieback disease.
This disease appears to only affect the Ash tree and is caused by an infectious fungus, Hymenoscyphus Pseudoalbidus, which attacks the trees causing leaves to drop and the crowns to literally ‘die back’.
It is thought that the fungus has arrived in the UK through the imports of infected trees, probably from Denmark, where it was observed in nurseries as early as 2009. Since last week there has been a Government ban on the sale, importation and general movement of Ash trees in the UK, but there are around 52 sites where infection has been confirmed (correct at time of writing, but expected to rise).
So what does this mean for the Ash tree in the UK?
On an optimistic note, the spores which spread the fungus are more prevalent in the summer months and it is thought that the increase of sites is due to the fungus being recognised rather than the disease spreading. But, the infected trees have to be destroyed to prevent any future spread, so we face the destruction of many trees – both young and established.
There is also the possibility that the spores have blown into the UK, so even with the destruction of the current infected trees, the spread of ash dieback may be incredibly difficult, maybe impossible to halt completely. Some areas of Denmark have seen 90% of their ash trees destroyed by the virus, which is a very sobering statistic when we recognise that we have in the region of 130,000 hectares of predominantly ash tree woodland in the UK.
But as well as the potential loss of the trees, there are the species which directly rely on the ash tree and the ash woodlands as their habitat. Due to the dappled light the leaves provide, woodland flowers flourish in ash habitats and the loss due to ash dieback could have dire consequences for these locations and supported species.
So, what are the symptoms of ash dieback and what should we do?
The symptoms of ash dieback disease are varied, and range from lesions to blackened stems and the browning of leaves from the ends of stems. This pictoral guide from the Forestry Commission is an excellent identification tool. http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/en/visit-woods/for-nature/Documents/symptoms-chalara-dieback-ash.pdf
If you do find a tree which could be infected, contact one of the bodies listed on the Woodland Trust website. Alternatively, contact your local authority who should be able to log the location and advise you accordingly.
We can also help to reduce the spread of the ash dieback fungus by washing boots, pets and even children when returning from an autumnal stroll in the woods.
Take a look at this video from the Telegraph and ensure that you check your local trees.
(images via the Woodland Trust and BBC)