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Tackling ash dieback across the Peak District

Ranger felling damaged trees at Greenway, Devon
The widespread effects of ash dieback are being tackled in the Peak District. | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

The nation is currently witnessing the dramatic widespread effects of ash dieback, with many ash trees across the UK now showing signs of the fungal disease. Ash dieback continues to impact the health of the woodlands in the White Peak and now many of the woodlands across the Peak District.

How does ash dieback affect the trees in the Peak District?

Ash dieback is caused by a fungus called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. It is also commonly known as ‘Chalara’ after an old scientific name.

The fungal disease originated in Asia and more than likely arrived in mainland Europe and now the UK due to the movement of plants as part of global trade. The fungus spreads quickly as its spores are windborne, then begins to affect the trees from the top down – initially corroding the most recent growth on the outside of the crown, and slowly affecting the whole tree. Individual trees vary in their resistance and can take from 1-30 years to perish after being infected.

Ash dominated woodlands in the White Peak

Many of the woodlands in the White Peak are made up of around 80 per cent ash trees and the current estimate is that 6 out of 7 will die as a result of ash dieback. The disease weakens the tree's structure making them extremely prone to uprooting and therefore unsafe to be around. Visitors can identify trees affected by ash dieback that are due to be felled this year by looking for the red dots on selected trees near paths and roadsides.

Tackling ash dieback

As part of their Tree Safety Work, the ranger team have carefully assessed the areas where infected ash trees will cause a high health and safety risk to people or property and will therefore need to fell the infected trees to remove the risk and to also give our other native trees in the area the best chance of reproducing naturally.

Despite what will be a tragic loss of trees, the team will be seizing the opportunity to increase the diversity of tree species in the areas hit hardest by ash dieback, by planting native tree species and allowing areas with other species already present to set seed themselves. Trees being planted will include hazel, rock whitebeam, wych elm and lime, which would have populated the woodlands before the ash became dominant in certain areas. Through this work, visitors will also see new views of the places they love to visit, including some of the spectacular once hidden rock formations and will also open up new spaces for flora to grow, which in turn creates new habitats for nature to live in.

Woodland Management

Creating some open areas in our woods is also simply good woodland management, mimicking natural conditions and benefiting the many woodland species that need light, open areas in order to thrive – such as spotted flycatchers, wood warblers and willow tits that flit amongst the tree canopies. The opportunity is also being taken to improve woodland infrastructure, with new boundary fences in some places to keep livestock out, and nest boxes for dormice and endangered birds like willow and marsh tit.

A view of ash dieback from a drone, showing several fallen trees
Ash dieback | © National Trust Images/Mike Calnan

LIFE in the Ravines

The LIFE in the Ravines partnership project, led by Natural England, will tackle the threat that ash dieback poses to the forested river valleys of the Peak District. The project has received £3.6m in funding from the EU LIFE programme, with the remainder coming from project partners. Project partners include the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, the National Trust and the Chatsworth Estate. The project is also working with the Peak District National Park, Derbyshire Dales District Council, the Arkwright Society, the Forestry Commission and the Woodland Trust.

LIFE in the Ravines will help 900 hectares of forest survive this threat with a programme of tree planting and woodland management. Small and large-leaved lime and wych elm trees, historically present in the woods, will be planted to step into the spaces left behind when ash trees die. The project won’t give up on ash, it will seek out trees that might be resilient to the disease and give a helping hand to natural ash regeneration. Planting aspen, willow and other trees will build resilience and add to the diversity of wildlife in the woods. For more information on this incredible project please visit the Natural England website.

Tree felling across the Peak District

There may be areas where you see felling taking place from a distance, in these situations please follow all signage that you see in these areas to keep you, staff and volunteers safe and to ensure that the tree felling is not interrupted. Path or road closures may be necessary in some areas so that the ranger teams and contractors can remove infected trees safely and efficiently. When closures and other factors that may affect local communities and the general public come to light, the National Trust will always do their best to provide updates and share the information as widely as possible, but please do check the website and @peakdistrictNT social media channels for the latest updates.

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Stepping Stones at Ilam Park, Dovedale and the White Peak, Derbyshire


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