Ash Die Back and You
You may have noticed the gradual appearance of orange crosses on ash trees along public roads over the last few months. These are trees that have become a hazard to the highway because of Ash Die Back and Devon County Council Highways department will be felling many of these trees over the winter period. Other trees adjacent to roads, that look in the same condition, will not be marked as they are not on highways land. The felling of these ash trees will be the responsibility of the landowner and, if by a highway, they may have been notified by DCC.
It must be emphasised that most of the millions of ash trees in Devon are the responsibility of private land owners who should examine them closely next spring and early summer for signs of the disease. For trees near roads, public paths, power lines, and buildings that show more than a quarter of their crowns devoid of leaves they should call in a qualified and fully insured tree surgeon to advise and carry out felling. By the time half or more of the crown has died back it will become extremely dangerous and expensive to fell the tree, so take action early on diseased ash trees in these locations.
However, where diseased ash trees are located in woodlands, field hedgerows, and even large gardens away from public roads, paths, and buildings and where there is very low risk to human or animal life there will be great benefits to wildlife by leaving them standing for as long as possible.
Devon has seen a massive increase in Ash Die Back this summer with the South Hams, West Devon and Mid Devon seeing the worst outbreaks. The situation is expected to get even worse next year as trees take time to totally succumb to this disease. However ash is also prevalent in our hedgerows and these will also be affected and as a consequence we can anticipate that our landscape will alter radically over the next few years. Those that remember Dutch elm disease may recall what the loss of enormous numbers of these trees had on the landscape. So what can we do to help?
Firstly we need to act now to minimise the landscape impact of ash tree loss. We should start promoting new trees and taking better care of existing ones. A small percentage of ash trees will be found to be resistant, or partially resistant, to the disease and scientists are also trying to breed genetically resistant ash. But with an expected 90% of ash likely to be affected the Devon Ash Dieback Resilience Forum (made up of a number of organisations - DCC, Devon Wildlife Trust, Farming Organisations, Devon Hedge Group, National Trust to name a few) have been working on a plan over the last 3 years to suggest ways to reduce the diseases impact.
The groups main request is to ask that everyone uses the 3/2/1 formula. If any of your diseased ash trees (or any tree) needs to be felled: then can you plant at least 3 new trees for the loss of a large tree, 2 for a medium tree and 1 new tree for a small tree. It is also suggested that we should promote natural regeneration wherever possible, particularly in copses and woodlands. But everyone agrees that this will not be enough on its own. We have to make sure we build a more resilient landscape with a diverse range of trees as there are other tree diseases that are here or expected to arrive over the next decade.
Unfortunately no one species of tree on its own can substitute for ash but it is estimated that 75% of organisms that live in ash trees can also live in the sycamore, a tree that is usually uprooted and cast aside as a nuisance and weed, but this species could offer a lifeline for those organisms that lose their natural home. Aspen, alder, field maple, birch, rowan and the new disease resistant elm, along with native oaks have similar traits to ash and could join the mix. Other options for wildlife, landscape and wood fuel are wild pear, crab apple or white willow. Unfortunately the 25% of creatures that only live on ash will probably die out to add to the general loss of biodiversity on the planet.
However this does not answer the main question for anyone with an ash tree on their land - what should I do? The Tree Council has just published an excellent document on line for homeowners and those with ash trees on their land which you can download. Go to www.treecouncil.org.uk . Click on Science and Research. Click on Ash Dieback and then scroll down to public guidance. This document has all the information that you need and explains your responsibilities. The SHDC website www.southhams.gov.uk also has information specifically about trees. Put Ash Dieback in the search box and you will find a page focussing just on this disease; put in tree maintenance and it will tell you how to find out who is responsible for any tree; put in protected trees and you will find rules pertaining to all trees. These 3 pages will give you all you could possibly want to know about rules and regulations relating to trees in your area.
Ross Gray – Tree Warden for Holne – November 2020