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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

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Volunteers wanted to help protect Cumbria's ash trees

A people's army of volunteers could help the ash tree make a last stand in Cumbria.

Ted Wilson photo
Ted Wilson

Forestry expert Ted Wilson will hold a public meeting in Penrith later this month to form the country’s first local ash action group in a bid to save the county’s disease-threatened ash trees – some of them up to 700 years old.

On Friday, the first case of the disease was confirmed in saplings at a tree nursery in Aspatria.

The Chalara fraxinea fungus, which causes leaf loss and crown dieback and can lead to tree death, has wiped out 90 per cent of ash trees in some parts of Denmark and is becoming widespread throughout central Europe.

Last week it was disclosed there were more than 120 confirmed sites where the disease had been found in the UK.

Mr Wilson said: “Dedicated volunteers are already protecting the national park’s stronghold of red squirrels from invading greys. Similarly, a people’s army of ‘Big Society’ volunteers could be the best wall of defence against deadly dieback disease wiping out the Lake District’s population of ash trees.”

Two weeks ago Mr Wilson, director of Penrith-based Silviculture Research International, was the first to publicly call for special measures to protect the Lake District’s ash trees.

He said: “These trees are essential for biodiversity conservation and essential elements of the Lakeland landscape, as important as Herdwick sheep and ancient churches.

“Individual ‘specimen’ ash trees in valleys such as Borrowdale and St John’s-in-the-Vale are home to numerous species of birds, bats and butterflies.”

Mr Wilson believes that local on-the-ground initiatives involving volunteers could be the best hope over the longer term.

“It is clear that more people than ever before understand the importance and fragility of our environment,” said Mr Wilson.

“Ash Dieback could help to galvanise people in Cumbria and across the nation to protect this iconic tree.”

He said with winter expected to slow the spread of the Ash Dieback disease, there was now a ‘window of opportunity’ to organise workshops for volunteers.

He said: “We may not be able to hold back the disease for ever, but we have to have hope that we can hold it back for a time here in the Lake District. There may be good scientific reasons too as this will buy us more time to collect genetic material and search for natural Ash Dieback resistance through our local trees.”

Weblink: Chalara dieback of ash (Forestry Commission website)

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