Tackling Ash Dieback at Brockhampton

Ash tree silhouettes taken from the ground looking up towards the sky

The ash tree is a native tree and there are an estimated eighty million throughout the UK which help shape some of our best loved landscapes. In March 2012, the fatal disease ‘Ash Dieback’ was confirmed present in the UK.

The Ash Dieback fungus, also known as Hymenoscyphus fraxineus causes leaf loss and crown dieback which often leads to the tree’s death. It is spread through pores which are released from fallen leaves and easily carried by the wind. Other species of native tree are not affected by the disease, nor do they aid the spread of ash dieback. The disease kills young coppiced ash trees quickly, however older trees can resist it for some time until prolonged exposure weakens them, and they succumb to other pests or pathogens such as honey fungus.

Ash is a popular choice of tree in the UK as it grows well in a variety of soils and climates and offers a bountiful display of brilliant red leaves in autumn. The large trunks make incredible habitats for wildlife and the airy foliage allows light to penetrate the woodland floor, meaning flora and fauna can flourish. Despite being a native tree, the disease is of an Eastern origin, the UK has now banned the trade of ash tree plants and seeds to prevent the disease spreading even further. We don’t yet know the full impact of the disease will be in Britain, but it seems likely to affect 70-95% of our ash trees.

Over the next few years, Brockhampton will undergo extensive felling works as part of our Tree Safety Management response to controlling the widespread impact of Ash Dieback disease. Sadly, the outbreak of Ash Dieback on the Brockhampton estate is severe, as it is in several locations throughout Herefordshire and beyond. Many of our infected trees line the main driveway and top carpark, any dying or dead tree can fail as its root or stem start to decay, and trees affected by Ash Dieback are particularly prone to falling at the base or dropping limbs from the crown. We therefore need to take action to protect visitors using our sites and the wider public using access routes next to our woods and trees. Extensive felling will take place on the estate over the winter months whilst there are no birds or bats but occasionally trees must be removed for safety reasons outside the recommended felling season. In this case, all trees are rigorously for signs of wildlife before proceeding and trees are only removed if there’s an immediate threat to property or the general public.

Individual tree assessments on the estate were carried out in June 2020 when we could see how severely affected each tree was by the condition of its crown. Ash trees which have begun to die and have less than 50% crown will be removed from these areas as they pose a significant risk. 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. It’s thought unlikely that any trees are truly resistant to Ash Dieback, but a small percentage show increased tolerance and will be the source of a future population of ash that recolonises our woods and landscapes. We’re able 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.

Whilst most of this work will take place while the site is closed in the winter months, 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.