Expert helps equip public to battle deadly tree disease

Date: Friday 23rd November 2012

PENRITH forestry expert Ted Wilson is hosting a public lecture to raise awareness about ash dieback disease the first community event of its type in the country.

He hopes the public can help the fight against the disease by identifying affected trees so they can be removed at the earliest opportunity.

His talk, entitled “Ancient Ash Trees and their Future in Cumbria”, will take place at Penrith library between 7-30pm and 8-30pm on Tuesday. Mr. Wilson was the first forestry expert in the UK to call for local action to identify valuable ash populations such as those found in Borrowdale and St. John’s-in-the-Vale.

“While the disease has been identified at two sites in Cumbria, we must not give up hope. With the public’s help there is still a lot that can be done to slow its spread,” he said. “While experts are working hard on how to minimise the effects of ash dieback, there is a great role for the British public who care passionately about our countryside.”

Mr. Wilson’s letters calling for local action across the UK were published in both the Guardian and Daily Telegraph.

“Our ash trees in Borrowdale and St. John’s-in-the-Vale are of unique value both in terms of their ecological and cultural heritage,” he said.

“The government has called for ‘citizen science’ to engage with helping to slow the march of the disease but as yet there are no detailed plans. Rather than a top down model, I am advocating a bottom up approach, where the community takes a lot of the responsibility for acting to slow the disease.”

Mr. Wilson hopes to stimulate grassroots action in Cumbria which could involve identifying affected trees and hopefully helping to slow the disease. His lecture will cover the ecology and history of ash in Cumbria and the status of the ash dieback disease Chalara fraxinea. It will conclude with practical advice about how to identify infected trees and an open question and answer session.

The talk is the latest in his series “The Nature of Cumbria” and tickets cost £1 from Penrith library (telephone 01768 812100).

Ash dieback disease has now been confirmed in sites near Aspatria and Keswick, and 1,000 young trees are to be destroyed because they are posing a threat to historic ash pollards near Keswick.

The disease was discovered on a 4ha National Trust plantation at Watendlath, in Borrowdale. Ian Wright, plant health specialist at the trust, said: “This is the first on trust land of several sites where suspected cases have been found over the past couple of weeks, with the others mainly in the east and south-east of the country.

“Our tree and woodland experts have been working closely with the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) to survey the country looking for signs of the disease, and, sadly, it was only a matter of time before we had a case confirmed.

“As a precautionary measure, we started to remove and destroy the 1,000 new plantings, which were less than one metre-tall, before diagnosis, to try to safeguard nearby veteran ash pollards some of which are more than 400 years old.”

The origin of the infection in the trees which came from a nursery in Yorkshire and were planted around two years ago has not yet been confirmed.