Restoring woodlands affected by ash dieback
Ash dieback is a devastating disease that threatens trees and woodlands throughout the country. Changing weather patterns caused by climate change may be exacerbating ash dieback – along with other diseases threatening a range of tree species – at the places in our care.
What is ash dieback?
Ash dieback is caused by a fungus called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus which originated in Asia and spread to Europe via the global plant trade. With its windborne spores the fungus spreads quickly, causing the crown of the tree to die back, often resulting in the death of the tree.
Ash dieback and the changing climate
Historic trees and beautiful woodland – which have inspired the likes of writer Beatrix Potter and landscape painter John Constable – face extinction. Ash dieback may be driven in part by the climate crisis: mild, wet winters create ideal conditions for disease and pests to spread and prolonged drought, flooding and high temperatures also mean that trees are likely to be stressed and more vulnerable to disease.
The death of up to four out of five native ash trees will have a devastating impact on wildlife and many of the landscapes we’ve come to love There a number of species that depend entirely on ash trees, including some rare and important lichens, and the conditions created by the light canopy of ash means ash woods have some of the richest ground flora.
Other tree diseases
It’s not just ash trees that are affected by airborne pathogens; tens of thousands of larch trees were felled across the Lake District as a result of an outbreak of the disease Phytophthora ramorum. A new disease known as Phytophthora pluvialis was discovered in Cornwall which affects a variety of tree species, including pine. An outbreak of the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle in the south-east of England has also raised concerns.
Working to save precious woodlands
We've been working around the country to eradicate trees and woodlands affected by these diseases. In many instances we're replacing them with more climate-resiliant species that will thrive for centuries to come.
Derbyshire Dales and White Peak
The ‘ravine woods’ of the White Peak are largely made up of ash trees which support some of the richest woodland flora in the UK. Around 1,600 ash trees were felled for safety reasons across the Peak District in 2021 and nearly 90 per cent were in the White Peak. This work cost
s around £250,000 and we're expecting to spend £1m tackling the problem during the next four to five years.
There’s been a changing of the guard at Cobham Wood near Gravesend. Centuries-old veteran oak and ash trees are gradually being replaced by a new generation of more climate-resilient trees, including the new elm tree cultivar ‘Lutece’, which was developed by breeding four types of elm, two of which are native to the UK.
We have a legal obligation to fell all larch trees within 100m of a tree infected by the disease Phytophthora ramorum. The largest area affected in 2021 was Holme Wood above Loweswater, where larch makes up 75 per cent of the woodland. The disease is affecting biodiversity, destroying habitats, taking resources away from daily conservation work and making it harder for us to tackle climate change. Woodlands in the South Lakes have also been badly hit, including Tarn Hows, Coniston, Wasdale, Langdale and Crummock.
We had to clear an area of woodland at Sheringham Park because of ash dieback. In its place, we've planted field maple, beech and other broadleaf trees that will provide autumn colour for generations to come. By making sure more natural light can come through the tree canopy we're also helping flowers and insects to thrive.
Pembrokeshire has suffered badly from the effects of ash dieback this year. This has resulted in a road closure as work was taken to address the problem at Colby Woodland Garden. Sadly, we will be felling around 1,000 trees at Stackpole. Some of the dead wood will be left to create homes for insects, which will provide food for birds and other wildlife. Open woodland glades will also attract butterflies.
Locally, the pathogen has caused many trees across the Surrey Hills landscapes we look after to become brittle, risking them becoming unstable or shedding limbs. To protect the public, we’re having to remove specific trees across our various locations in Surrey, including Holmwood Common, Box Hill and Reigate Hill and Gatton Park.
We realise that seeing machinery removing trees in well-loved landscapes is difficult and as a team we find it hard too. The removal of ash trees is an unwelcome, but necessary job and we need to act to ensure people are safe.
In many places we will be leaving most of the arisings to improve our deadwood reserves. Deadwood is vital for woodland ecosystem health and provides habitat and food for many priority species like stag beetles. The new spaces created in the canopy will encourage natural regeneration and provide more light for native woodland plants and flowers to flourish.
Like in many other limestone and chalk landscapes, ash is the dominant tree species in the Yorkshire Dales, especially on the limestone pavement at Malham Cove. Sadly many of the trees will probably be lost to ash dieback. We're working to recreate woodland that supports nature and adds to the beauty of the area.
Help us restore woodlands
Sadly we're having to fell a record number of trees because of the impact of ash dieback on human safety. The majority of ash trees (75–95 per cent) will be lost during the next 20 to 30 years. As part of our ambition to plant and establish 20m trees by 2030, we're planting more climate-resilient trees and creating woodlands that have a diverse range of species in them.
Find out about ambitious plans to plant trees for future generations that will absorb carbon and enable nature to thrive.
Ancient trees are links to our past, they're species-rich habitats that support countless other organisms. Discover what makes a tree ancient and how to recognise them.
With support from the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, we're looking for ways to protect our environment and combat climate change. Find out more about the work we're doing.
Hedgerows and orchards provide food for insects, homes for wildlife and a glorious spring blossom spectacle for humans. But they are disappearing from UK landscapes. Find out more about what we're doing to bring blossoming trees and hedgerows back.
We've teamed up with the Sylva Foundation to produce a limited-edition range of handmade stools and tables. Each item has been crafted by Sylva Wood School students from timber felled as a result of ash dieback on the Ebworth Estate in the Cotswolds.