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Can the Ash Tree Survive Ash Die Back? A Living Ash Trial Created in The National Forest

Wednesday, 11th May 2016

An young ash tree

A trial to look for potential tolerance to ash dieback in different varieties of ash has been created by Forest Research, the research agency of the Forestry Commission, on land owned by the National Forest Company (NFC) in The National Forest near Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire.

Over 4,000 trees have been planted across 2 hectares of land in an experiment that will extend over the next five years. The trial is one of a national network of such sites looking into the effects of ash dieback.  The trial is part of the Living Ash project sponsored by Defra and co-ordinated by the Earth Trust, who is also involved with Walnut species trials in nearby Lount Woods.

The common ash is a very genetically diverse species, and experience from the continent shows us that between 1 – 5 % of all trees are tolerant to ash dieback, which means that it is possible to breed ash for tolerance to the disease. The Living Ash Project aims to identify these tolerant trees and bring them together to form a new breeding population. 

Simon West, NFC Head of Forestry said: "Ash is a magnificent, valuable and irreplaceable tree in our landscape with between 1 and 2 million in The National Forest and lots more across England. This partnership with Forest Research and the Earth Trust is vital in ensuring that ash will continue to make a contribution to our landscape."

Dr Steve Lee, Forest Research Programme Leader for Genetic Improvement, said: "This trial is one of three we are planting this spring across eastern England. We are very excited that as the trees grow, some will die, some will struggle on badly with the infection and a rare few are expected to tolerate the disease. Those are the ones we are after.  The unique design of this experiment will enable us to work out how heritable any Chalara tolerance is and for the first time give a clear indication of the likelihood of being able to breed our way out of this problem.  Many thanks to the National Forest Company in allowing Forest Research access and use of this site over the coming five years."

Dr Jo Clark, Earth Trust Forestry Research Manager and Living Ash Project lead, said:  "We’re really grateful to the National Forest Company for their support with this trial. Ironically, it’s only by hoping that many of the trees in this trial will succumb to ash die-back that we’ll be able to identify the tolerant individuals from which to breed the next generation of healthy ash trees. It’s great that the National Forest really understand the importance of what we’re doing. The trees in this trial come from a tested seed orchard that provides seed of the very best quality in terms of timber production.  It’s really important to the future success of ash as a forestry species that some trees tolerant to Chalara come from trials such as this."

The public can also help by looking at ash trees in their neighbourhoods, and tagging trees using Ashtag.  The project partners have 2500 tags to give away for free, available from www.livingashproject.org.uk