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Archive - Wednesday, 21 November 2012
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Ash to ash
The gardening world is alive with talk of ash dieback, an aggressive wind-dispersed fungal disease called Chalara fraxinia. It came to light after a consignment of ash trees was sent from a nursery in the Netherlands to a nursery in Buckinghamshire. In the last six weeks 100,000 young ash trees have been destroyed and the British nursery trade is after compensation. Since then the disease has been found in the wild, both in England and Scotland, and sites include East Anglia, a car park in Leicester and Forestry Commission woodland at Knockmountain, near Kilmacolm in Inverclyde.
Ash to ash
The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, has admitted that the airborne disease will be ‘impossible to eradicate’. Owen Paterson has also acknowledged that the only way of beating the disease is to hunt for resistant trees that survive the onslaught — and some undoubtedly will.
Thankfully, mature ashes will not be burned. If they do succumb, they will still provide wildlife habitat, and of course they may rally and recover. It’s all very glum: the ash is a graceful tree that we tend to take for granted. The one I can see from my study window often has a greater spotted woodpecker examining its nooks and crannies. I should miss it greatly were it to go. There’s a feeling of déjà vu here. The devastating loss of the elm trees, which dotted the edges of many a Warkwickshire field like huge galleons on a calm sea, altered the landscape forever. Yet Warwickshire elms have survived.
Some mature elms fought off the disease and there is a sentry opposite the Research Station at Wellesbourne in Warwickshire that I see whenever I pass. This lone survivor is providing graft wood. It’s an optimistic omen hopefully for the ash. What Can We Do?
Part of the problem is modern globalisation. In the 1970s many local nurseries raised their own stock, or bought from nearby contract growers. Now many buy in cheaper trees and shrubs raised on the Continent, or in Eastern Europe. Both are areas where plant diseases seem to be more rife. Ash dieback, for instance, was first spotted in Poland in 1992. Another disease, sudden oak death (Phytophthora ramorum), is threatening our oaks and larches especially in the western half of Britain. It’s another airborne fungal disease and it came into the country on imported plants and was officially spotted in 1995. Container-grown viburnums, rhododendrons and camellias are the most affected in the nursery trade. In the early 1990s I bought, planted and lost five viburnums which just died mysteriously. Normally I lose very few plants and I believe they must have been infected. Find a good nursery, one which either propagates their own or buys in British stock –– because these diseases tend to cross the Channel. Never be tempted to bring a plant back from foreign climes: it only takes one plant. The fuchsia gall mite arrived on the Channel Islands when one fuchsia enthusiast got one posted in from South Africa. This generous gardener gave away lots of his fuchsia to friends. Or is that ex-friends? If you love to walk in woods, or visit open gardens, it’s a possibility that your, or your dog’s, feet could spread ash dieback or sudden oak death syndrome to a new area. So a quick scrub of boots and paws, tedious though it is, should become part of your routine. I recommend a separate pair of wellie boots that never leave your garden.
Lastly, if you see ash dieback report it to the Chalara Health Line 08459 335577, or to FERA on 01904 465625, or at email@example.com If you would like to find out more, The Woodland Trust has a lot of information on their website woodlandtrust.org.uk.