The old saying of oak before ash, we are in for a splash, ash before oak, we are in for a soak did not ring true in 2019. Ash were notably late coming into leaf. They stood there starkly in their skeletal winter form against the bright green of spring, highlighting just how prominent they are in the landscape and what a huge impact their loss inevitably will have on the countryside.
I am sure many of us secretly hoped that, despite the growing body of evidence and our own experience, that somehow this wonderful tree would show greater tolerance against the disease, compared to what we have seen on the continent since the early 1990s. Sadly, this has not been the case. Some ash trees never came back into leaf and many now show tell-tale signs of dieback within the upper crown and week canopies. I am already seeing the effects of this year’s fungal spores with black droopy leaves hanging off branches in many woodlands that we manage.
This month has seen a number of key publications launched informing us of strategy we should be taking to manage our resource, including Defra’s ‘Conserving our ash trees and mitigating the impacts of pests and diseases of ash: A vision and high-level strategy for ash research’ and Natural England/Forestry Commission’s advice for SSSI’s ‘Managing woodland SSSI’s with ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus)’.
Young trees with their low lying leaf cover and thin stems can be affected and die in 2 to 3 years, whereas fully mature healthy specimens can show tolerance for a lot longer.
It is no longer considered an option to stand back and observe how the early stages of this disease may develop on your own ash resource. One of the side-effects of the disease is that the timber structure becomes brittle and the tree becomes a safety risk if located near to access and property. A clear strategy to minimise such risks and remain legal is needed.
There are opportunities to be had. Undertaking sensitive silvicultural management can produce both firewood and timber grade material which is currently seeing strong markets and good prices. There are also options to secure tree health grants from the Forestry Commission and management can allow for diversification of moribund woodlands and the wider landscape.
As a company we are taking the management of our clients ash resource very seriously. We now have extensive experience and can advise on sensitive but practical guidance. We are also making sure that policy and government guidelines remain practical and robust through John Lockhart’s position on the National Tree Safety Group and the DEFRA Working Group, and my role within Confor.
Please feel free to pick up the phone or send an email should you wish to discuss the future management of ash within woodlands and in the wider landscape.