National Forest helps in search for dieback-tolerant ash trees

A trial to look for potential tolerance to Chalara ash dieback in different strains of ash tree has been created by Forest Research, the research agency of the Forestry Commission, on land owned by the National Forest Company in Leicestershire.

Image: Forestry Commission
Image: Forestry Commission

Over 4,000 trees have been planted on two hectares in an experiment that will run over the next five years as part of a national trials network, the Living Ash Project, sponsored by Defra and co-ordinated by the Earth Trust.

The experience of continental Europe shows us that 1–5 per cent of ash trees are tolerant to ash dieback. The project aims to identify these tolerant trees and bring them together to form a new breeding population.

Forest Research programme leader for genetic improvement Dr Steve Lee said: "As the trees grow, some will die, some will struggle on badly with the infection and a rare few are expected to tolerate the disease. Those are the ones we are after.

"The unique design of this experiment will enable us to work out how heritable any Chalara tolerance is and for the first time give a clear indication of the likelihood of being able to breed our way out of this problem."

Earth Trust forestry research manager and Living Ash Project lead Dr Jo Clark said: "The trees in this trial come from a tested seed orchard that provides seed of the very best quality in terms of timber production. It's really important to the future success of ash as a forestry species that some trees tolerant to Chalara come from trials such as this."

The public can also help by looking at ash trees in their neighbourhoods, and tagging trees as part of the Ashtag citizen science initiative. The project partners have 2500 tags to give away for free, available from www.livingashproject.org.uk.


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