Rapid survey to save Scotland’s ash trees

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Over 150 forestry specialists employed by the Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Government have been working around the clock in the last week to carry out a countrywide assessment of ash trees throughout Scotland’s woods and forests.

The survey, which aimed to assess whether there was any indication that Chalara disease is present in ash trees in the wider environment, was completed on Tuesday.   The survey found seven sites where the fungal disease was present.

Chalara dieback of ash is a fungal disease which causes leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees and can lead to tree death. The fungus has caused widespread damage to ash tree populations in continental Europe since it was first reported as an unknown new disease in Poland in 1992. 

In the past seven years alone an estimated 90% of ash trees in Denmark have been lost to the disease.

The five day rapid action survey of Scotland, which started last Friday, was completed Tuesday 6th November.  Of the 2,730 sites inspected by workers throughout the five day survey, 5% showed potential symptoms and will be revisited for further investigation.

Carrying out this unprecedented, but highly necessary survey has meant using digital mapping techniques to break Scotland’s 80,000 square kilometres into more manageable 10km2 squares for survey. Foresters have then selected four woodland sites in each square to for survey visits.

Paul Wheelhouse, Environment & Climate Change Minister said: “The Chalara disease is a serious threat to Scotland’s precious ash trees.”

“Although the species (ash) only represents less than one percent of Scotland’s net forest area, that seriously underestimates its importance as a hedgerow tree and as a component part of our native woodlands.  It is therefore an extremely important native species in ecological and cultural terms.”

The first case of Chalara in the British Isles was confirmed in imported ash plants in a nursery in Buckinghamshire early in 2012. Since then, infected plants have been confirmed in nurseries in a wide range of locations including Scotland. The disease has also been found in recent plantings of young ash trees at a Forestry Commission Scotland woodland near Kilmacolm, west of Glasgow.

The importation of ash saplings to Scotland was banned last week.