Professionals in the plant nursery and tree-care sectors are being urged to check on the health of recently planted ash trees, and notify any symptoms of Chalara dieback of ash, a destructive disease only recently found in Britain for the first time.
The appeal follows the second discovery in England this year of ash dieback disease caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea (C. fraxinea), which has the potential to kill millions of ash trees if it spreads into the natural environment. It has already caused widespread losses of ash trees in continental Europe, including the deaths of an estimated 60 to 90 per cent of Denmark’s ash trees.
The disease was discovered in June in young ash trees recently planted at a Leicestershire car park. This followed an interception in February by the Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera) of diseased ash plants in a shipment from a supplier in the Netherlands to a nursery in Buckinghamshire.
Dr John Morgan, Head of the Forestry Commission’s Plant Health Service, said,
“This is a very worrying development. C. fraxinea is an aggressive pathogen which has the potential to inflict considerable damage on Britain’s ash trees. Ash is a much-loved native species which is important for its timber, woodfuel, wildlife, biodiversity and landscape benefits, and it is one of our most numerous tree species.
“We have agreed with Fera to adopt a precautionary approach and to inspect ash plants in nurseries and destroy any material with this disease in order to prevent it from spreading into the natural environment. Because we now know that C. fraxinea is present in the nursery trade we expect there will be more interceptions in the near future.
“We are urging anyone who has received ash trees in the past five years to check their trees’ health and to report any suspicious symptoms to us without delay. This applies principally to professionals working in the nursery and tree sectors, but it is also relevant to anyone who looks after land with ash trees on it.”
The disease mostly affects common ash (Fraxinus excelsior), including its ‘Pendula’ ornamental variety, but Fraxinus angustifolia can also be infected. Deaths in continental Europe have been particularly common in very young trees, known as saplings.
Further information, including a “pest alert” factsheet of information about, and pictures of, Chalara dieback of ash symptoms, is available on the Forestry Commission’s website at www.forestry.gov.uk/ashdieback.