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Ash Dieback in The National Forest

Monday, 2nd September 2013

The first outbreaks of the tree disease Ash Dieback have been reported in The National Forest near Albert Village in North West Leicestershire.

The disease has been found at three sites between Albert Village and Moira, near Swadlincote. Surveys have been undertaken by Forestry Commission Plant Health staff, who have identified the disease both on trees that are around 17 years old, and on some five year old trees, which appear to have more recent infection.

The Chair of the National Forest Company (NFC), Catherine Graham-Harrison, said: “We are saddened to learn of the arrival of Ash Dieback in The National Forest. The ash is usually a very robust Midlands tree, prominent in our hedgerows and woodlands. We must hope that the more resilient trees survive and breed new generations of trees which withstand the disease.”

Ash Dieback (Chalara fraxinea) was first identified in the UK in February 2012 and is now established at around 560 locations across the UK. Unfortunately, as it is a fungus carried by the wind, it was only a matter of time before it reached The National Forest, although as yet it is not certain how the infection reached the trees at Albert Village.

The NFC is working with the Forestry Commission, which has advised that there is no cure for the disease and it is likely to have already spread to other parts of The National Forest. The Forestry Commission recommends no direct action is taken. If diseased trees are felled it will not stop the spores from spreading further (as the spores are found on decaying leaf stalks and are wind borne). We will have to live with the disease and learn to manage dealing with a declining ash population in the country as a whole over time. It is important that infected sites are monitored to identify any symptom-free trees that may prove resilient to the disease.

Catherine Graham-Harrison commented:“Ash is a significant tree in the Forest, probably around 15 – 20% of all the trees we have, but in The National Forest we have always planted mixed species woodlands, which make them more resilient when diseases like this affect one species.

“Over time the biggest visual impact is likely to be from losing mature hedgerow ash trees in the landscape, but not whole woodlands. It will be interesting to see what natural re-growth happens in any gaps left by dead ash trees. As trees start to decay they will provide valuable habitat for specialist beetles, fungi and birds such as woodpeckers.

“We are only half-way through the Forest’s creation. Whilst the loss of some of its ash trees will be a big blow, we still have the opportunity to add many more new woodlands to the landscape with other species in the future.

“It is hoped that in the future we can again plant ash trees once disease-resistant trees have been found and grown to seedling stage.”

The National Forest Company offers the following advice to landowners and the public:

·       Landowners and members of the public should remain vigilant and report any suspected instances of Ash Dieback to the Forestry Commission using the Tree Alert form (www.forestry.gov.uk/treealert)

·       Information on spotting the disease with advice on what to do if you suspect it, is available on the Forestry Commission website (www.forestry.gov.uk/ashdieback)

The National Forest Company asks that any confirmed cases of the disease within The National Forest should be reported to Matt Brocklehurst, Head of Forestry, National Forest Company, on 01283 551211.

For further information on Ash Dieback see www.forestry.gov.uk/ashdieback