Race to register potential ash dieback cure

Plant physiologist in bid to register BASF's Signum with Chemicals Regulation Directorate for injecting amenity ash trees.

Glynn Percival championing fungicide - image: Palmstead
Glynn Percival championing fungicide - image: Palmstead

A fungicide used on fruit and vegetables could be the answer to ash dieback, which is now endemic in the UK.

Plant physiologist Dr Glynn Percival said he is registering, through Dove Associates, BASF's Signum with the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) for injection into amenity ash trees.

Percival, who manages the Bartlett Trees UK research laboratory at the University of Reading, said: "I have a potential fungicide for ash dieback and I'm trying to get one registered for amenity use through the CRD because it's a bit silly all we're told we have no cure.

"Of course there's a cure. Fungus is controlled with fungicides. We just need them registered. Injection technology works with Dutch elm disease and can for Chalara ash dieback - at least it gives an option."

He said registration could be fast-tracked in weeks or could take a year. "But we have got the process rolling and have our fingers crossed. I'm hoping it is viewed favourably and is fast-tracked but it's out of our hands."

The felling of 100,000 ash trees is having no impact, Percival added, and felling 100 million ash in the USA did not stop ash borer. "It's frustrating that in the UK there's only one option. I call it slash and burn because you cut them down and set them on fire. In the USA they are far more used to dealing with those epidemics."

He said the cost of injection technology has come down and safe micro-injection systems are used extensively in the USA but don't seem to be adopted over here. "This could happen real quick and injecting is a lot cheaper then felling. I don't think the Government has been made aware of it."

Percival also said systemic phosphite fertiliser products "can be very beneficial in switching on tree defence systems" and were widely used in the USA and Australia. "I'm not sure why we're not looking at this. It's frustrating that all we have is no cure and there are lots of other things we should do."

Bur Percival said his "controversial" ideas were received negatively by some organisations that advise the Government at an International Dendrology Society conference chaired by Tony Kirkham at Kew this month.

"Some think (injections) are economically unacceptable but why not let landowners decide?" He said he was also accused of "environmental irresponsibility", but added: "What about felling and burning? You lose habitats for birds, bats and squirrels and how many billions of beneficial insects do we burn?" He pointed out that microrhyzzial upset is also an unknown but felling and burning is undoubtedly "incredibly destructive".

Percival is not involved in Government advisory boards on ash dieback but said he has had a lot of support in the industry, including tree officer associations.

He said ash dieback hitting the UK was "just a matter of time because of our biosecurity. If it hadn't been ash it would have been something else. I don't see too much changing. Ash should have been banned a long time ago. Tony Kirkham and I said we need to start quarantining trees like our pets."

He warned that Massaria and Ceratocystis platani on London planes and sweet chestnut blight are "heading this way" and the UK remains unprepared for them.

At a recent East Malling International Plant Propagators Society conference, German nursery stock adviser Heinrich Losing said dieback could be controlled on nurseries using mancozeb, chlorothalonil and prochloraz, preventing the disease from infecting trees after sale and planting out. He added that Fraxinus americana, F. ornus and F. pennsylvanica look like being tolerant to the disease.

Meanwhile, the Botanic Society for the British Isles said: "It seems unlikely that Chalara fraxinea will decimate wild populations of ash in Britain. It is most likely to infect a proportion of saplings, simply forcing natural selection of surviving, disease-tolerant varieties. British ash already tolerate at least 100 pests and diseases, so one more is not likely to make a big difference."


Nurseries hit by ash dieback: 15

Crowders Nurseries (Horncastle, Lincolnshire): losses of £200,000 - bought from J&A Growers and grown on the continent.

Buckingham Nurseries: Losses of "tens of thousands" but being compensated by Dutch supplier. General manager Mike Easom recommends more use of phone app - see http://ashtag.org.

Plants Ltd (Chobham, Surrey): German saplings worth £3,000.

Bernhard's Nurseries (Rugby, Warwickshire): origin unknown.

Farnley Estates nursery at Farnley Tyas, Huddersfield: 1,700 ash propagated in Germany.

Total value of ash stock currently held by UK nurseries: £2.5m+

- 13 per cent of growers have destroyed ash stocks.

- 43 per cent report that they will have to destroy stocks in the future (HTA).

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