Ash dieback plans are 'too little, too late'

Example of an ash tree affected by Ash dieback © Forestry Commission

Example of an ash tree affected by Ash dieback

Latest update 11.03.2013 13:14

In response to the Government’s control plan on ash dieback announced today, Dr Simon Pryor, our Director of the Natural Environment, said:

'It is good to see the Government stating its overall commitment to reducing the rate of spread of the disease, but we are deeply concerned that this commitment is not backed up with strong actions.

'The limited actions and weak commitments set out in the plan will not be enough to achieve the aim of controlling the spread of the disease.

'It’s far too little, too late.

'We are alarmed to see the Government is even wavering about continuing its programme of tracing, testing and destroying the infected young ash trees that have been planted in the last few years across the country. It is also disappointing to see that the Government is proposing almost no action in areas of the country already infected.  

'Our collective knowledge of this disease is limited, and it is good to see a workshop on research priorities is being proposed, but we are concerned that this is entirely focused on breeding resistance rather than on techniques that could reduce the rate of spread.

'The Action Plan refers repeatedly to the cost of any intervention now, but makes very little reference to the costs that farmers, woodland owners, local authorities, gardeners and the Government itself will face as this disease spreads across the country.

'These costs include making safe dying trees, replanting lost trees and loss in value of ash timber. This will account for tens of millions of pounds over the next decade.

'We know there is no certainty that any interventions now will work but we believe there is sufficient evidence that it is worth trying.

'Through this Action Plan we’re effectively surrendering the British landscape to this disease before we’ve fully investigated ways of reducing rate of spread and buying time.'

What we want to see
We're calling on the Government to rapidly beef up its commitments before publication of the updated plan in March. We'd like to see stronger commitment to three critical actions:

  • Completing the task of tracing and destroying all infected ash trees planted across the country in the last five years
  • Leading a more intensive survey of the core infected area so we know more about the extent of these infections, and how it is spreading
  • Commissioning - and funding in full - a range of research into this disease, including into ways of reducing spore spread and increasing the resistance of existing trees.

Further comment on the implications for the Trust and action we are taking

Over the past month the Trust has systematically prioritised its ash tree surveys by inspecting trees planted in the last five years first, followed by its hundreds of ancient and notable ash trees which are found not just in woodland but also on farmland and hedgerows, followed by older ash trees in its woodlands and hedgerows.

To date the Trust has had five confirmed cases of ash dieback on its land, four at newly planted sites and one in more mature trees, with this case being in Norfolk.

Ash dieback has destroyed more than 3,000 new ash tree saplings, all planted on Trust property during the last year, with the Trust acting swiftly once the disease was confirmed by officials.

Commenting on the Trust’s own purchasing policy when ordering new plants and trees, Ian Wright, our Plant Health Specialist added:

'We are urgently looking at our own purchasing procedures and working with our suppliers to introduce a much greater traceability of stock and biosecurity measures.'