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Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust: Ash Dieback fungus issue has not gone away

Having been very much in the news a few years ago, after arriving in the UK in 2012, Ash Dieback has been out of the headlines for a while but the issue certainly hasn’t gone away, says Erin McDaid of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

A fungus that originated in Asia, Ash Dieback or Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, ironically doesn’t cause much damage on host trees such as the Manchurian ash or Chinese ash in its home range, but since its arrival in Europe around 30 years ago it has devastated populations of the European ash because our native ash trees have not evolved any in-built resistance.

Sadly, in recent weeks the National Trust has reported what it considers to be the worst year yet in terms of the impact of the disease on trees on its vast estate and I have read reports of an increased spread on the Quantock Hills in Somerset and of councils in Wiltshire and Ironbridge undertaking major tree felling operations to remove hundreds of affected trees.

These reports illustrate that this potentially devastating issue is not going away.

An aerial view of Treswell Wood near Retford. Photo: Quinton Quayle. (42940503)
An aerial view of Treswell Wood near Retford. Photo: Quinton Quayle. (42940503)

Sadly, we are seeing huge numbers of trees being removed across the country as the Ash Dieback affects trees along roadsides and in other publicly accessible areas where the dying trees are deemed to pose a health and safety risk.

Some forecasts suggest that disease, which can affect ash trees of any age, will wipe out 80% or more of our ash.

Given that it is one of the most numerous trees in our woodlands and across our countrysides, the impact of such a level infection would have a devastating impact on the visual landscape, wildlife and our ability to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Ash tree. Photo: Gee White (42940507) (42941829)
Ash tree. Photo: Gee White (42940507) (42941829)

At a woodland such as Treswell Wood, near Retford, where many of the mature trees are ash, the impact hardly bears thinking about.

When you factor in the threats posed to other tree species, such as birch, oak, horse chestnut and Scot’s pine from pests and disease, the outlook could be pretty grim.

The risk to our trees, the wildlife they support and the knock-on impact on our health and well-being should not be viewed in isolation and nor should the solutions.

While large-scale tree planting has huge environmental benefits, we also need to address the causes of the decline in insects and the continued loss of rare and fragile habitats.

There will, of course, need to be specific actions to benefit particular species or habitats, but we simply don’t have the luxury of the time needed to tackle the problems one by one. What we need is a radical new approach that helps check the loss of habitat and gives wildlife the chance to cope with everything, from pests and diseases to pollution and climate change.

An ash tree at Old Chainbridge Reserve. Photo Gee White. (42940505)
An ash tree at Old Chainbridge Reserve. Photo Gee White. (42940505)

That’s why the Wildlife Trusts have set out a bold vision of 30% of land and sea being connected and protected for nature’s recovery by 2030.

Planting more woodland using a diverse range of species will help us to offset the impacts of the loss of ash trees and help lock away carbon to reduce the impacts of climate change, but we must learn from past mistakes and ensure that in creating new woodland we don’t lose fragile grasslands and other habitats that have value in their own right.

They will also so create much-needed habitat for creatures on the brink, such as hedgehogs and may provide the space needed to bring back species such as the pine marten.

They will help ensure that future generations can enjoy a beautiful woodland landscape and more fundamentally, ensure we have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and a climate we can cope with.

Sensitively-created woodlands will not only benefit wildlife and feed our souls, they will bring much-needed economic benefits such as sustainable materials for construction and slowing the transit of rainwater and reducing the risk of devastating and costly floods.

If planted creatively and with vision they will act as a natural health service; providing amazing places for us to escape the pressures of our daily lives; and have the potential to boost tourism.

You can find our more about our vision at wildlifetrusts.org/30-30-30

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