What is Ash Die-back?
Ash Die-back is a disease that primarily affects the Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), through it is having an impact other Ash species. It has been devastating Ash trees across Europe since the 1990s, where it was first identified in Poland, and has now made it to the United Kingdom. It is caused by two forms of a fungus:
- Chalara fraxinea – this form causes the symptoms on the Ash trees
- Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus – this causes the fungus to fruit and spread through leaf litter
There is ongoing discussion as to how the spores move from tree to tree. In areas without human intervention, the disease is spread by the wind. However, human activities have sped up the transmission of the disease through the movement of infected trees and material. Animals and birds are not thought to be involved in the spread of the disease.
Why should we be concerned?
It is nigh impossible for a lay-person such as myself to predict what impact Ash Die-back could have in our woodlands, but I can make an educated guess. Ash makes up around 10-15% of the UK’s broadleaf woodlands, and provides food and shelter to a variety of species. With the loss of Ash trees a huge part of our woodland ecosystems could vanish, having a knock-on effect on the plants, animals and fungi that are interlinked.
We should be concerned, but we do not need to panic. Few species are solely dependent on Ash trees, and the loss of Ash could open up new niches for other tree species. Perhaps we should look at Ash Die-back as an opportunity – a chance for woodlands to evolve into a new structure as part of the natural life/death/life cycles. Nature abhors a vacuum, and ‘she’ is a survivor. As long as we do our best to limit the spread of the disease, ‘she’ will be fine.
What is being done manage Ash Die-back?
In October 2012, the UK government brought in legislation which bans the import of Ash plants, trees and seeds and also bans the movement of Ash plants, trees and seeds within the UK. It is hoped that by limiting the movement of Ash, the spread of Ash Die-back will be limited too.
The disease has no cure, so it probably cannot be eradicated. Trees vulnerable to the disease, such as saplings, will be identified and destroyed while older, more resilient trees will be left for as long as possible in hope that they will develop a resistance in much the same way we can develop a natural resistance to disease through exposure.
What can we do to manage Ash Die-back?
We, as Pagans, are in a privileged position to enjoy the natural world with an awareness and sensitivity that some other people may not have. As such we have a role to play as custodians. You can help to limit the impact of Ash Die-back by not moving Ash material, even for personal collections. If you suspect that an Ash may be affected by Die-back, then please report it.
In Autumn and Winter, Ash trees can be easily identified by their smooth grey bark and black buds. In older trees, the bark can begin to crack. Symptoms of Ash Die-back include leaf loss, crown die-back (where leaves at the top of the tree die) and damage to bark. If you spot any of these symptoms, please report them to the following agencies:
For England, Scotland and Wales:
Tel: 01904 465625
Tel: 0131 314 6414
For Northern Ireland:
Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD)
Tel: 0300 200 7847
More information can be found on the Forestry Commission’s website: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara