Dealing with ash dieback at Fell Foot

A felled tree showing a hollow, blackened inside caused by the disease

If you’ve visited Fell Foot recently, you may have spotted some tree felling around the park. A survey conducted by our rangers last summer sadly discovered that a large percentage of trees were badly infected with ash dieback, an incurable disease which threatens an estimated 80 million ash trees in the UK.

What is ash dieback?

Ash dieback is caused by a fungus called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. Originating in Asia, it is believed the fungus spread because of the movement of plants as part of the global trade. As its spores are airborne, the fungus spreads quickly and is impossible to control. Over a third of the trees in the UK are ash trees and they shape some of our best loved landscapes. It is predicted that over 90% of these will eventually be lost to the disease, having a devastating impact on the British landscape, homes for wildlife and biodiversity.

Can it be treated?

There is currently no cure or treatment for ash dieback, although a small percentage of ash trees do develop natural immunity.

A felled ash tree on the shore of Lake Windermere

Why are so many trees being cut down all at once?

Unfortunately, the extremely dry conditions in spring last year (2020) resulted in the rapid deterioration of Fell Foot’s infected trees. They now pose a risk to public safety and are in urgent need of felling. The national lockdown also meant the maintenance work and felling our rangers would be carrying out at that time was put on hold.

How many trees will be cut down?

The infected trees will only be removed where they pose a risk to visitors and the public. We estimate Fell Foot will lose around 30 ash trees, including some of the oldest which have been sat on the shoreline framing the view up Windermere for over 100 years.

Will my visit be affected?

No – Fell Foot remains open as usual, although at times certain footpaths may need to close temporarily when felling is taking place nearby, and it may be noisy during these periods.

How long will felling take?

Felling has finished, but the timber now needs to be processed, so you may see trees on the ground for several months yet.

Felled trees suffering from ash dieback on the shore of Lake Windermere at Fell Foot park

Will you plant new trees?

We’ll be replanting the parkland with a variety of native tree species which will be resilient to future diseases.  The trees will be carefully selected from a local seed source and include heritage species such as oak and beech.

We’re also planning to expand the Pinetum at the south end of the park. In the 19th century, Fell Foot was carefully landscaped around a Georgian mansion which no longer exists. Part of this landscaping included a section called the Pinetum, where, in the 1880s, the owner Colonel Ridehalgh planted showstopper trees he had collected from all over the world. This area is still here today and we plan to add more giant conifers to the existing Monkey Puzzle, Douglas Fir, Monterey Pine and Swamp Cypress species.

How will you protect any remaining ash trees?

Certain types of weather enable the spores to spread the disease more easily – so the warm wet autumn last year also worsened the outbreak. By working together with the Forestry Commission and neighbouring woodland owners we can fell infected trees quickly and help to limit the spread of the disease. As mentioned earlier, any replanting will be with species which aren’t susceptible to ash dieback.

What can I do to help?

Unfortunately this isn’t just a problem at Fell Foot; across the country, the National Trust is expecting to remove 40,000 trees this year at a cost of more than £2 million. Between 75 and 95 per cent of all ash trees will be lost in the next 20–30 years and our aim is to restore woodlands for future generations to enjoy. If you’d like to help the cause we would be grateful for any donations towards our Everyone needs nature appeal. Thank you.

Bumblebee nectaring on pink cherry blossom

Everyone needs nature appeal 

Trees that give us life, calming coastlines to walk along and bees that hum in blossoming flowers. Imagine if this all disappeared in the blink of an eye. You can give nature hope when you donate today to help look after these natural spaces.