Derbyshire man's bid to protect Britain's native ash trees

Published: 18 Feb 2015

Author: Joe Alsop
Derbyshire man's bid to protect Britain's native ash trees

Joe Alsop, from Derbyshire, is a Reserve Manager for Natural England. In 2014 he spent six weeks travelling Europe to study the serious tree disease, ash dieback, as part of his Churchill Fellowship.

The first symptoms of ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) were observed in Poland and Lithuania in the early 1990s, but the cause wasn’t correctly identified until over ten years later. It is likely that it was inadvertently introduced into Europe through the international plant trade. Although harmless in its native range where it has coevolved with native ash tree species, as an invasive disease to the UK it has the potential to devastate the ash population.

Joe visited sites across Europe, including Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, investigating management techniques for minimising the effects of the disease.  Meetings were held with a wide range of industry professionals including forest pathologists, university research scientists, lecturers, species and habitat specialists, foresters and site managers.

Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is a significant component of the British countryside and is of great biodiversity value, providing a unique set of ecological traits. In addition, ash woodlands are more prominent than they are in mainland Europe and this has resulted in widespread concern amongst woodland managers, which is further justified as there is no single alternative tree species, native or otherwise, which can fulfil the unique role of ash.

“Ash dieback has the potential to cause the collapse of woodland ecosystems, as well as having negative economic, landscape and social consequences,” said Joe.

“Through my Fellowship I’ve been able to identify a number of recommendations to help manage and sustain our native ash woodlands. These include avoiding felling prime ash, as these trees offer the greatest chance of possessing disease tolerance, and ensuring adequate numbers of seed-bearing female ash trees are retained to enable good natural regeneration potential.”

In addition to writing a report on his findings, Joe is using the information gained on his Fellowship to give a series of talks and run workshops,  discussing the best way to manage woodlands prior to and post infection from this devastating disease. 

Contact Joe:

joe.alsop@virgin.net

Joe's Fellowship report