Managing ash dieback at Berrington

Ash trees with ash dieback in Fishpool Valley at Croft Castle in Herefordshire

The fungal disease ash dieback has spread quickly through our heavily wooded estate, like many places in Herefordshire and throughout the country. This means we need to fell and remove many infected trees for safety reasons. These trees will eventually pose a threat to public safety if left to stand, as the disease allows rot to take hold from the inside and means that limbs, boughs and even whole trees are susceptible to falling onto public footpaths.

Ash dieback, or ‘chalara’ is an Asian fungal disease which spread to the British countryside from imported trees carrying the infection six years ago. The progress of the disease is rapid, since the fungal spores can be carried by the wind for many miles. We don’t yet know what the full impact of the disease will be in Britain but it seems likely to affect up to 95% of our ash trees (source: Forestry Commission).

The level of ash dieback at Berrington is high, which is similar to many places in Herefordshire and throughout the country. This means we need to fell and remove many infected trees for safety reasons. There’s a potential risk to visitors if the badly infected trees next to the footpaths shed limbs and boughs, or even fall as they “die back”. Once the tree is infected, the disease is usually fatal. It’s very sad for our wonderful ash trees to be infected in this way, but we have to act quickly to guarantee public, staff and contractor safety.

Our rangers and contractors will start work to fell the most infected trees around the gardens and play area in January 2021. These trees will eventually pose a threat to public safety if left to stand, as the disease allows rot to take hold from the inside and means that limbs, boughs and even whole trees are susceptible to fall onto footpaths. Later in the spring selective felling will take place along the A49 and in Moreton Ride, exact timings are yet to be confirmed. 

Whilst most of this work will take place while the site is closed, there may be some instances where pathways will be closed to ensure the felling work can be undertaken safely. Diversion signs will be in place in these areas.

Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done once a tree is infected. Our response has focused on managing the safety implications of dying and dead trees near places people use, then mitigating the ecological impact as far as possible. This is difficult and skilled work that we are likely to have to do more of in Herefordshire over the coming years. The unpredictable nature of the rot inside the trees mean that their predictability when felling is difficult. We therefore need to work proactively to ensure public, staff and contractor safety. We need to manage the disease and mitigate for it, allowing other trees to flourish in place of the ash.

In areas that are away from public footpaths and high visitor usage areas, we are leaving ash trees standing to find out which specimens display tolerance to the disease, and then let them reproduce. However, the infected trees that are close to paths will need to be felled.

We also plan to replant the parkland with a variety of native woodland species which will help to ensure resilience to diseases in the future. The trees selected for replanting will be carefully chosen from a local seed source and will include many flowering and fruiting species to help attract a wide variety of wildlife to our woodland.