There has been relatively little news regarding ash die back disease in the last few months, as symptoms and spread will only become apparent as trees come into leaf in the new season. However, this has given time for a lot of planning and working out practical steps to help slow the spread of the disease.
A Chalara control plan was published in March and last week details of an additional grant scheme, the Plant Health Improvement Grant were released. Much of the spread of Chalara has been via the planting of young infected trees, and we have previously published maps of recorded outbreaks. Completion of surveys should be achieved is summer, and the focus is now firmly on controlling infection in these young plantations.
Ash trees planted with grant aid since 2005 (under the English Woodland Grant Scheme) are eligible for the Plant Health Improvement Grant, which was announced last week. Rates are higher in areas of greater susceptibility, and can be for up to £3,000 per hectare, including clearing and restocking (see Forestry Commission table below). Natural England are still considering a similar grant support for ash planted under the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme.
This is good news for landowners with sites with infected ash. For those still clear of the disease there will be a judgement call for all landowners who have planted ash, which will include factors such as how high a proportion of ash is in the crop, and how soon the disease may reach your area. If only a minor element of planting, then there is less risk in taking a “wait and see” approach to the disease. On the other hand if your planting scheme is only one or two years old, then we would suggest that the case for action is much higher. Either way, it is good to see plans with a preventative slant, rather than just sitting back, waiting and hoping.
A movement ban on all young ash trees remains in place. As a result there are no supplies available for planting, either from abroad or from UK nurseries. Though you would have had to be a massive optimist to consider planting ash at the moment!
The current policy is to retain mature ash trees as long as possible, as the genetic diversity in the natural population is likely to provide some disease resistant strains. Fourteen chemical treatments are also being assessed, although these are only ever likely to be practical for specific trees with high amenity value.
Link for grants scheme: http://forestrycommission.firmstep.com/default.aspx/RenderForm/?ID=p3Cke85GbZ1&HideToolbar=1
Link for Chalara latest: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara