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What can we do about ‘Ash Dieback’?

What can we do about ‘Ash Dieback’?

‘Ash Dieback’ is such a cause of concern for our country, and its impact is being deeply felt in the UK horticultural industry.

The expression ‘prevention is better than cure’ really is jumping up to bite us now, but rather than get angry or resentful about what did or didn’t happen to stop this known disease from taking hold on these shores, we must look ahead and draw on all our resources collectively to see how much we can mitigate this potential catastrophe.

For those of you perhaps not completely familiar with what I’m talking about, let me give you a bit of brief background. As far back as 1992, it was reported in Poland that Ash trees had started dying in large numbers. The problem soon spread to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and then to the countries of Scandanavia. In 2006, the fungus responsible for this  was identified under the name Chalara Fraxinea.

In February this year, the fungus was discovered in a consignment of trees sent to Buckinghamshire from a nursery in the Netherlands and since that time it has been found in woodlands in Kent, Essex and other counties.

Of course, we’re all now thinking of the devastation cause by Dutch Elm disease. We know that chalora fraxinea will have a massive effect on our woodlands, parks and landscapes.

It has now been acknowledged by Environment Secretary Owen Patterson that the disease will not be eradicated. But there is still plenty that we can do to lessen the impact of the disease and save as many trees as possible.

The immediate plan must be to arrest the rate at which the disease is spreading. That means landowners engaging with the government to work with them in helping develop resistance to this fungus.

Newly planted diseased trees and nurseries must all be destroyed, but the plan is also to leave mature trees and woodlands alone, as they are quite valuable to local wildlife. This also gives scientists a chance to review and focus on the issue of resistance and learn about the genetic strains which might be more resistant to the disease.

Even though we now know that it will not be possible to stop or eradicate the disease, we must ensure that this is not the end for British Ash trees. We must keep up the pressure on the government to step up research to ensure there are disease-resistant varieties of this wonderful landscape, going forward.

BALI also has an important role to play in sharing information ensuring that the knowledge and is getting out to its members. It is providing regular weekly updates and news bulletins so that members have got a ready resource to consult. It will also engage in an all-parliamentary group on gardening and horticulture, making its representations to members of the parliament as well.

My hope is that we can save some of our Ash trees and I am confident in that hope. In the short term, Ash dieback is going to have a massive impact on growers. These are the people who are going to feel the pinch first.

Simon Ellis, owner of Crowders Nurseries in Horncastle, Lincolnshire (acknowledged by many as the leading voice of UK nursery growers), is working hard on behalf of all those like himself who stand to lose so much from large scale destruction of trees.

I will be updating this blog periodically with further news on this important issue.

Till next time,

Matt

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