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Wise up on ash dieback; As ash dieback continues to threaten the future of Britain's ash trees, Hannah Stephenson examines the problem and offers a guide showing gardeners what to look out for in their own trees.

Byline: Hannah Stephenson

ASH dieback was the big environmental story of 2012 - and the deadly fungus Chalara fraxinea threatening to blight our ash and so change the face of our countryside is not about to drift away in 2013.

In December, Government figures revealed that the number of infected sites had more than doubled to 291 compared with the previous month.

More than half are mature woodland areas which were most likely infected by spores blown from continental Europe or Norway in the wind, rather than by diseased young trees imported from abroad, experts said. But how can you tell if the ash in your own garden is infected? What is the situation in the UK? The fungus was unknown in Britain until early last year. The first case was confirmed in ash plants in a nursery in Buckinghamshire, in a consignment which had been imported from the Netherlands. Since then, more infected plants have been confirmed in nurseries in a wide range of locations in England and Scotland. Experience on the continent indicates that it kills young ash trees very quickly, while older trees tend to resist it for some time until prolonged exposure causes them to succumb as well. How is it carried? Local spread, up to 10 miles, may be via wind. Over longer distances the risk of disease spread is most likely to be through the movement of diseased ash plants.

What are the symptoms? Dead or dying tops of trees, most easily seen throughout summer; wilting leaves, most visible in spring and early summer; lesions and cankers on stems/branches/shoots, visible throughout the year; dieback of leaves with brown/black leaf stalks, seen throughout summer; fruiting bodies on fallen blacked leaf stalks, visible June to October; staining of wood under bark lesions, visible throughout the year. Check your trees as they emerge into leaf, watching for symptoms. Is there a cure? No. Once infected, trees can't be cured. However, not all trees die of the infection. Some are likely to have genetic resistance. What about newly planted ash trees? The Forestry Commission advises people to check on any young trees planted in the last five years and is urging gardeners to buy disease-free stock from reputable suppliers.

How can I protect ash trees in my garden? To reduce spread of the disease, remove all ash leaf litter from around the trees in the autumn and winter to reduce the local source of spores the following summer. It is thought that leaf removal, possibly coupled with the lower humidity levels in parkland and urban tree environments, can significantly reduce and slow the impact of Chalara.

Safely dispose of leaves by burning, burying or composting, although in some areas and circumstances, disposal might need to be undertaken by a local authority.

Urban and veteran ash trees should be examined to establish any infection present, and the disease status of the tree should ideally be assessed by a professional. What is being done on a wider scale? The discovery early last year that it was in the UK, thought to have arrived on imported ash trees and blown as spores from the continent, has prompted fears of similar devastation as that wrought by Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.

The control plan unveiled by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in December includes measures to reduce the disease's spread, by funding research on the production of spores at infected sites and working with other European countries to develop resistant trees. The import and movement of ash trees has been banned.

There are also plans to accelerate the development of a tree health early warning system using volunteer groups, and to support a biosecurity-themed show garden at this year's Chelsea Flower Show.

A task force asked to assess the current tree disease threats to the UK and what can be done about them has made initial recommendations for a risk register for tree health and for measures to reduce the chances of diseases spreading at UK borders and within the country.

What are the knock-on effects? A significant loss of ash trees could hit many of Britain's rarest insects which live in ash trees. Lichens and mosses, which grow on its bark, would also be hit. What can I do if I think my tree has ash dieback? Fill out the Forestry Commission's 'Tree Alert' form on or call the Chalara helpline on 08459 335 577.


THREATENED: In December, figures revealed that the number of infected ash tree sites had more than doubled to 291 compared with the previous month

DEADLY: A Forestry Commission notice on an ash tree infected with Chalara Fraxinea Dieback, and inset, the symptoms of the fungus
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 12, 2013
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