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There’s a new boy in town called Dieback of Ash & it’s bought old memories flooding back

October 29, 2012

Dieback of Ash Disease – Image courtesy of http://www.guardian.co.uk

I’m veering away from my usual vegetable mutterings as I’ve recently been catching alerts about a new fungal disease that’s devastating the ash tree world called Chalara fraxinea, or more commonly known as dieback of ash disease … and it’s not good news at all.

How many of you are old enough to remember Dutch Elm disease? When I was growing up there was an avenue of beautiful old elms that lined the roadway on the long walk to the school bus. Every day we passed the elms, not giving them much thought other than the fact they were always there, come rain, hail or shine.

Elm trees

Elms: Image courtesy of www.bbc.co.uk

We’d kick our way through the fallen leaves in the autumn and shelter from rain showers in the summer months when caught out by sudden downpours.

Then all the elms were gone.

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, just that one day they were there, then they weren’t. We noticed the elms then, or rather the complete lack of them. The long line of trees that we’d taken for granted were no more. Instead, miles of ploughed, flat, East Anglian fields opened up to the side of us and we were completely exposed to all the weather systems that were thrown at us on that long school trudge.

I still remember my sense of loss for the elms and not just for the sheltering protection they gave us. I missed their beauty. It was perhaps the first time that I became aware of how cruel nature could be, and in particular the devastating impact a small little beetle could not only have on an entire species of tree, but for all the insects that had made their homes there and depended upon it. I wonder how many of those were lost too.

dieback of ash - chalara

Dieback of Ash Disease – Image courtesy of insectimages.org

And now it’s happening again. Ash trees across Europe are dying in their hundreds of thousands and all we can do is hope that the disease can be halted. In fact it’s up to each and every one of us to try to do just that. It’s been reported that Denmark has already lost 60 to 90% of its ash population to Chalara, a new fungal disease that was first spotted in Poland in 1992. News that it’s been found in a plantation in Co Leitrim may have terrible consequences – not only for our countryside but farmers and business (such as hurley makers) that depend upon ash for their livelihoods.

How do we recognise dieback of ash disease?

The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) in the UK have published an excellent video that explains the symptoms well – even to those who don’t understand the terms they’ve used to describe the leaves, stems etc should be able to identify the disease based on this description.

What do we do if we think we spot dieback of ash disease in a tree?

Firstly don’t do anything hasty – it’s important that the disease is correctly identified before we go around cutting and burning every ash in sight. Initially we are being asked to report any sitings where there are concerns about unusual ill-health to the Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine by email forestprotection@agriculture.gov.ie or by phoning 01 6072651.

In the meantime all imports of ash have been banned though given that this disease can be spread by the wind it may already be too late.

Whatever happens, do keep an eye on your local ash trees, do alert your friends and neighbours to this disease if they haven’t already heard about it and don’t become complacent.

I for one would hate to think that my children may grow up never seeing an ash tree in their garden, field or hedgerow, or be able to shelter from the elements under a small cluster of them as they currently do on their own wait for the school bus.

How to Identify Ash Dieback Disease

Healthy ash trees at Halloween – it’s difficult to distinguish unhealthy trees without closer inspection once the leaves have dropped in the winter months