c Trade & Finance

Landowners in England will be paid to remove young ash trees and replace them with other species to help slow the spread of the disease killing them, the environment secretary said on Tuesday.

Paterson said: “We know we can’t stop Chalara fraxinea infecting our ash trees, so we have to throw our resources into managing it and slowing the spread. A key part of that strategy will be identifying those trees which have a natural resistance to the disease so that we can restock our woodlands in the future.”

The amount the government will spend on replacing young trees will depend on demand, said a spokeswoman. Landowners will be paid to remove recently planted ash from high priority areas – a band running from Cornwall and Devon and then north through Gloucester and up to the Midlands – and replace the trees with other species.


Nurseries infected with the deadly fungus set to wipe out Britain’s 80m ash trees have been removed from the official map of the outbreak the Guardian can reveal, after nursery owners complained that being identified might hurt their business.

Officials said permitting anonymity encourages nursery owners to come forward and report infections, but critics say concealing the identity of infected nurseries means the public and scientists trying to fight the epidemic do not have the full facts.


The crisis in Britain’s ash forests came as a shock to public and politicians. But is it a vision of the future for our woodlands? Stressed by climate change and vulnerable to pests and diseases crossing the English Channel the prospects seem grim.

In a special edition of Costing the Earth Tom Heap asks what our forests will look like in the future. Is there anything we can do to stem the flow of disease, can our native trees be made more resilient or should we consider planting a wider range of trees? Tom visits Lithuania where ash dieback disease first came to attention in Europe to find out how they’ve come to terms with new threats to their forests and meets the experts and enthusiasts with a fresh approach to protecting our forests.


Action against the deadly fungus threatening the UK’s ash trees was delayed by a lack of qualified plant pathologists, MPs were told on Tuesday. Government scientists being questioned by parliament’s environment committee also said border controls against the rising number of invasive plant pests were not working, while committee chair Anne McIntosh said it was “staggering” that the amount of imported firewood – a potential infection risk – was unknown.

The Forestry Commission recommended in July 2011 that ash trees should only be imported from areas free of the Chalara fraxinea fungus, but an import ban was only imposed in October 2012. At least 136 of the 291 infected sites now identified in the UK resulted from imported trees.

In November, Prof James Brown, president of the British Society of Plant Pathology, told the Guardian the job losses in plant science were “severe”. He said: “Britain is not producing graduates with the expertise needed to identify and control plant diseases in our farms and woodlands.”

a key measure put forward in the action plan – developing strains of ash trees that are naturally resistant to Chalara – would take 10 years or more to bear fruit.


Clearly, the disease has been here for some time and more cases may be identified in the spring. This situation, with the knowledge of experience on the continent, makes Confor question how much resource can usefully go into controlling spread.

There is a real danger that an over-ambitious focus on reducing spread will take away resource from other vital areas of work, such as, putting in place a practical strategy for limiting the danger of future outbreaks and Forestry Commission resources for promoting forestry expansion and management.”



The UK’s control plan is based on four measures – “reduce, develop, encourage and adapt”, said Prof Ian Boyd, chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). He said the aim was to reduce the spread of Chalara, develop new control measures and resistant varieties, encourage the public and industry to help out and adapt the nation’s forests to the inevitable changes.

However, Paterson said the current policy of tracing and destroying young infected trees – which has seen more than 100,000 trees removed – was “unlikely to be sustainable in the longer term and there may be benefits from a more targeted approach.” Boyd said control measures had to be “proportional” to ensure trade could continue and deliver “economic uplift” but said what a more targeted approach might be was yet to be determined.



Ash tree growers across the country are counting the cost of Ash Dieback after a survey estimated that the fungal disease could cost the industry £2.5 million.

95% of businesses state that the current situation will have a negative effect on their business

·         58% predict cash flow problems over the winter period

·         87% expect reduced business profitability.

·         13% of nurseries have already destroyed ash stock in response to the disease (either due to destruction notice or market failure)

·         8% of those surveyed believe they may go out of business without financial support.

There is an estimated £2.5million worth of ash trees held currently on UK nurseries with the majority being 1-2 year old seedlings, although the total market value is spread quite evenly across all tree sizes.

The HTA estimate that nearly 1.5 million ash trees have been imported by the nursery trade over the last 12 months and nearly 4 million since January 2009.



While the Government has a no-compensation policy for those affected, he has assured land owners that it will not stop direct payments to farmers affected by control measures. Reforestation of removed trees will be grant-aided.


  • We are working with others to bring the public and leading scientists together to improve how we identify and monitor tree pests and disease in the UK.
  • We are starting a programme of investing in UK tree nurseries to guarantee that all the planting stock we use in the future will be 100% from UK collected seed, raised and grown on in the UK and free from the risk of importing tree disease.
  • We will bring together leading experts from the UK, Europe and the wider world to share knowledge and learning about the impacts of ash disease and the growing list of wider tree health threats.

We have also embarked on a more considered response to developing a better understanding of the major impacts of ash dieback on conservation and biodiversity in the medium and longer term – this will take some time. We recognise that we will need to engage in wider conversations to pool ideas, knowledge and learning with a range of other bodies and expert individuals. You can read more about our initial Conservation Response here. The impacts on ash will be much more complex than the media headlines suggest, this goes well beyond the simple percentages of what will be lost or estimates of how many million trees are at risk. Some landscapes and habitats will be much harder hit than others, and we need to start thinking about how we respond to that now.

We have stopped planting ash and will continue with this approach until the situation is clearer. Not least because we need to understand the scope for disease resistance in our existing UK ashwoods. However, we are not stopping tree planting altogether – rather, we are substituting other UK native species for the ash and have confirmed that all of the other planting stock we are using this season are UK sourced and UK grown. We have revised our position on the use of local tree provenance to reflect a changing situation and updated our stance on the wider threats from pests and disease.

The Defra action plan has an air of sanity conspicuous by its absence from every other domain of government policy. The ban on imported ash trees remains in place; no ash is to be moved around; diseased trees in nurseries and young plantations have to be destroyed but established trees with signs of dieback need not come down: how will we identify resistant strains if every tree is felled at the first sign of infection? (C. fraxinea, Defra added, does not move directly from a diseased tree to a healthy one, but ‘only via the leaf litter’.) For the moment there is relative calm, even if the prognosis for Britain’s population of common ash (fraxinus excelsior)

Plants have always been moved about – it’s a point Rackham makes – but a voyage on a sailing ship was long enough for a pathogen to die, or kill the specimen, before arrival. On a steamship the odds of survival improved. C. fraxinea is one of many globetrotter diseases attacking oak, chestnut, alder, Corsican pine, new generations of elm and several other species, in a world of 24-hour deliveries.

The fungus has been detected near the Channel and it has taken firm hold in the woodlands of the Haute-Saône in north-eastern France. The French, who are normally interventionist (they spray their oak woodlands from helicopters), have struck a fatalistic note on C. fraxinea, which arrived about five years ago. They made the same case against felling that Defra made in November, but they believe the fungus extends its territory at a rapid rate, moving at 150 km a year, against the Woodland Trust’s estimate of 20-30 km.

Wait-and-see has prevailed over a policy of widespread felling, but another line of argument will open up in the spring and summer as existing damage becomes visible and the disease makes seasonal headway. The idea that C. fraxinea can be zapped with a clever chemical is not fashionable: conservationists don’t like it, scientists doubt it can be done and governments are uncertain what products it’s appropriate to license.


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