Managing ash dieback at Croft Castle

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

Fears that the fungal disease ash dieback will spread quickly through our heavily wooded estate have been confirmed. Contractors will start work to fell the most infected trees in Fishpool Valley at the beginning of February which means that this whole area will be completely closed from Monday 3 to Friday 28 February. 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.

The level of ash dieback in Fishpool Valley is severe, 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.

Ash trees in Fishpool Valley
Ash trees in Fishpool Valley affected by ash dieback at Croft Castle in Herefordshire
Ash trees in Fishpool Valley

Fishpool Valley will be closed while we undertake this felling work, from Monday 3 to Friday 28 February. The rest of the parkland will remain open as normal while this area is closed, including the ancient tree walk, the Croft Ambrey walk, the Pokehouse Wood walk and the mini-castle play area next to the tea-room.

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.

In areas that are away from public footpaths and high visitor usage areas, we're leaving ash trees standing to find out which specimens display tolerance to the disease, and then let them reproduce.

An infected ash tree after being felled in Fishpool Valley
An ash tree infected with ash dieback after being felled at Croft Castle in Herefordshire
An infected ash tree after being felled in Fishpool Valley

Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done once a tree is infected. Our response will focus 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 at Croft 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.

This will mean the removal of many infected trees where they are close to paths, however, we also plan to re-establish other native trees that would have populated Fishpool Valley before the ash became dominant, such as oak, chestnut, beech, lime and hornbeam from the estate. This 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.