"Don't panic" over ash dieback, tree professionals urged

The spread of ash dieback needn't spell the end for amenity ash trees, according to a Danish expert on the disease.

Image: Natasha Bertrand
Image: Natasha Bertrand

Speaking at a Forestry Commission event at its Bedgebury Pinetum, Kent last week, University of Copenhagen senior adviser Iben Margrete Thomsen told UK tree professionals: "You're only at the start of the epidemic, but please do not panic."

She explained: "It's a disaster in forests but less fatal in towns and the open landscape, due to removal of leaf litter and drier conditions leading to fewer fruiting bodies. Ash trees outside forests can live with the disease for years, so preserve them as long as possible. Deal with road tree safety issues as before."

Since it was first detected in Denmark in 2003, the disease, caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, has spread to over 90 per cent of the country's ash trees, but this has given it a depth of knowledge of the disease's behaviour.

"Many young ash trees will probably die at first, but young established urban trees can be unaffected. One or two per cent of ash are resistant, so look out for them," Thomsen urged.

Nor should managers reject the genus entirely when selecting new trees, she added. "Use Fraxinus ornus, perhaps F. americana. F. mandschurica may also be a future possibility, but avoid importing seedlings from Asia."

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