Ash dieback has reached our shores with the confirmation of infected ash saplings in five locations in Counties Antrim and Down, including National Trust land at Runkerry on the north coast. The saplings have all been linked to imports from Europe.
The fungus, called Chalara fraxinea, causes leaf loss and crown dieback, and can lead to tree death. It has already affected 90 per cent of ash trees in Denmark.
Patrick Cregg, director of the Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland, said: “With the disease spreading across mainland Europe, reaching Great Britain and more recently the Republic of Ireland, in reality it was only a matter of time before it reached Northern Ireland. Now, unfortunately, our worst fears have been realised.
“It poses a serious threat to one of our most common native tree species and, of course, to the wildlife which depend upon it. It has the potential to change the face of our landscape. Measures need to be swift and thorough to identify and destroy infected ash saplings in an attempt to contain the disease.
“Government must give clear guidance to all woodland owners on how to identify and manage ash dieback. And the Woodland Trust will certainly do all it can to mitigate the spread of the disease in line with Government advice.”
The Woodland Trust has published a three-point action plan to tackle the issue of tree disease as a whole.
The Trust is pledging to:
• Bring scientists and the public together to monitor and protect the UK’s trees and woods. Along with the National Trust, Forestry Commission and the Food and Environment Research Agency, we’ve already committed £1million to this cause. Now we need the government to invest another £1million.
• Begin long-term investment in UK nurseries to ensure every tree we use from now on is UK-sourced and grown, removing all risk of importing further disease.
• Host a major conference to discuss knowledge, issues and impact of ash disease and wider tree health risks on conservation, with input from international specialists.
Ash is one of the most common trees in Northern Ireland hedgerows. This traditional woodland species is excellent for biodiversity, and also provides exceptional firewood. The pale dense timber is used for making furniture, hurley sticks and snooker cues.
Members of the public can help by reporting any signs of ash dieback to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Telephone 0300 200 7847 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Woodland Trust has launched a new website for anyone concerned not only about ash dieback, but all tree pests and diseases. This, together with the three-point plan, can be found at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/treedisease