Tackling ash dieback in Herefordshire

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.

Ash dieback, caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, results in 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 are 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. Ash dieback has been circulating in the UK since March 2012. 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.

Midsummer Hill

Ash dieback has sadly been found in the woodlands on Midsummer Hill, a site we care for in the Malvern Hills. Under the guidance of key stakeholders, which include Historic England, Natural England and in consultation with The Malvern Hills Trust, an urgent management plan to remove impacted ash trees has been developed, which we will implement this Spring. 

Felling will start on 21 March and take approximately two weeks to complete. Midsummer Hill will remain open to walkers, but safety diversions will be in place for the duration of the work. 

Midsummer Hill consists of an Iron Age hillfort and has Scheduled Ancient Monument status. It is therefore crucial that we minimise any impact to this historically significant landscape. The felling will be carried out in one go to reduce disturbance. Trees will be felled manually and winched to lessen the impact on the ground. Some carefully selected trees will be left, including oak, field maple and hawthorn pollards. These will help to maintain the wood pasture and minimise the chance of future windthrow.

Ash dieback is a growing concern across the UK for many National Trust properties
A ranger felling a tree in the parkland
Ash dieback is a growing concern across the UK for many National Trust properties

Midsummer Hill also forms part of the much larger Malvern Hills Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and supports various habitats and wildlife. These include many different species of birds, including the cuckoo, pied flycatcher, green woodpecker and redstart. We are ensuring minimal impact to the local wildlife while felling is undertaken, by:

  • Minimising opportunities for ground nesting birds to establish themselves in the area.
  • Carrying out ongoing inspections by ecologists to identify nesting birds and taping these areas off as non-intervention zones.
  • Carrying out pre-work assessments by ecologists to look for other protected species to ensure they are not negatively impacted by the felling.

Once felling work is complete, the area will be established as species-rich grassland, which will provide an excellent habitat and enhance the SSSI status.It will also protect and better present the hillfort. Midsummer Hill Camp is one of the most well preserved and complex hillforts in Herefordshire

Grassland has many benefits for wildlife and attracts insects, birds and anthropods such as millipedes and spiders.

Although there will be a significant change to the landscape, grassland will be beneficial to both the wildlife and hillfort in the long-term. 

Brockhampton Estate

Infected ash trees will continue to undergo felling at Brockhampton, near Bromyard, as part of our tree safety management response. Sadly, the outbreak of ash dieback at Brockhampton is severe. 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 checked for signs of wildlife before proceeding and trees are only removed if there’s an immediate threat to property or the general public.

In areas that are away from public footpaths and high visitor usage, 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.