Ash Dieback Research Providing Hope

Young ash plantation

Young ash plantation

A range of research projects into ash dieback dis­ease, launched by Defra, are begin­ning to pro­duce results.  Pre­vi­ously known as Chalara frax­inea, the new cor­rect name for the fun­gus is now Hymenoscy­phus frax­ineus.

Field tri­als grow­ing young ash trees have now com­pleted their third year, grow­ing seedlings from 15 seed sources.  With two years left to run, sci­en­tists are hop­ing for as few as 1% sur­vival, so they can be con­fi­dent of nat­ural immu­nity to the dis­ease.  These would then be used to prop­a­gate larger num­bers of seedlings for poten­tially even­tual com­mer­cial sale.

Else­where a tech­nique to pre­dict dis­ease resis­tance is being devel­oped that analy­ses metabo­lites from leaves, col­lected from trees in the wider envi­ron­ment.  One tree from Nor­folk, nick­named Betty, has been pre­dicted to show strong tol­er­ance.  The research is cur­rently indi­cat­ing that it should be pos­si­ble to select and grow young ash stock with a 30–50% chance of resis­tance to dis­ease, which is a much bet­ter per­cent­age than the 90% plus mor­tal­ity cur­rently pre­dicted in the wider population.

So the injec­tion of fund­ing into research is already begin­ning to yield promis­ing results.

But, on the gloomier side, if you have not heard, then remem­ber the name emer­ald ash borer bee­tle (Agrilus pla­nipen­nis)!   This east­ern Asian bee­tle is now in both North Amer­ica and east­ern Europe, spread­ing west­wards from Moscow at about 25 miles a year.  That’s quite a while before it reaches the UK, unless of course it has a help­ing hand from humans along the way, hav­ing believed to have reached North Amer­ica in pack­ag­ing mate­r­ial.  The bee­tle scores rather higher than ash dieback dis­ease on the government’s plant health risk reg­is­ter (yes there is one!).  So per­haps it’s still too early to plan­ning an ash restock.….….….….

Emerald ash borer beetle

Emer­ald ash borer bee­tle (it’s not quite this big in real life!)

Wildlife Wood­lands
26th April 2016