The countryside may be awash with crimson red and burnt orange, but a sinister force is creating a dark cloud over Autumn in the UK.
Chalara fraxinea (try pronouncing that after a glass of red wine!) is a disease that has decimated Ash tree species throughout Northern Europe, already affecting over 90% of Ash trees in Denmark and Sweden and is present as far as Belgium.
Until recently the UK was unaffected, but it now seems that imports of Ash saplings have released the disease into the wild, and at least two outbreaks have been spotted in wild woodland in Norfolk & Suffolk.
If this was a plague sweeping the country, putting the health of members of the public at risk, we would stand up and act fast. We would be worried and frightened. We would seek comfort and most of all, with the help of the UK government, we would have to do something about it.
Why is it any different because this victim is silent? Ash trees make up 30% of the UK’s tree cover and hedgerow and the consequence of this disease could be catastrophic for our countryside.
Ash trees are a brilliant crowd pleaser of nature; they do a lot for all kinds of different animals and plants, from providing great roosting sites and warm holes to nest in, to perfect places to forage for food and ideal spots to flourish and grow. Birds, bats, fungi, plants, insects and more all use ash trees in one way or another meaning this disease has the potential to damage ecosystems in a big way.
Yesterday, Owen Patterson, Environment Secretary placed a ban on importing ash trees into the UK. But, is this too little too late?
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said: “This is a stark reminder that non-native plants and animals can wreak havoc on already over-stressed habitats and native wildlife. While we welcome the Government’s ban on imports, it is not enough in itself. The EU is currently developing new international legislation on invasive non-native species and this is a major opportunity to prevent future problems. The big lesson here is that sometimes, strong environmental regulation is needed to protect all our interests.”
A group of people determined to do something about this have launched an app device that could help detect trees suffering with the disease.
The Adapt Low Carbon Group at the University of East Anglia have worked tirelessly over the past few days to create Ashtag – an app for IOS and Android devices which allows users to submit photos and locations of sightings to a team who will refer them on to the Forestry Commission, which is leading efforts to stop the disease's spread with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Infected ash trees are recognisable by lesions on their bark, dieback of leaves at the tree's crown, and leaves turning brown – though experts say the arrival of autumn makes the latter harder to accurately spot. This app should help with the identification of affected trees.
For more information on Ashtag, please go to http://ashtag.org/
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