What is Ash Dieback?
Sadly, Ash has not moved into the spotlight for reasons we can celebrate. Yes, the first-ever conference dedicated to Ash trees will remind us of why we should care about the threat to Ash and yes, it will include new artworks dedicated to discovering the understated beauty of Ash but the real reason the conference is being held is to alert us all to the fact that if we don’t tackle Ash dieback now, we’ll be waking up to an ashless landscape in the very near future.
Ash dieback - known as Chalara after the original name of the fungal infection causing it (Chalara fraxinea; actually this name has now been changed to Hymenoscyphus fraxineus but dieback is still referred to as Chalara) - causes leaf loss, crown dieback and bark lesions in infected trees and is almost always fatal, although some more mature trees have shown resistance and survived. It was first spotted in the UK in 2012 and infection rates have been accelerating at such a rate that current estimates suggest Ash dieback has now spread to two-thirds of the UK area where ash trees grow.
Researchers are still uncertain as to whether the disease arrived here solely as a result of trees imported from Asia or whether dieback has been a naturally-occurring event with the fungal spores reaching these shores in the wind so whilst Ash itself it not an invasive species, the disease affecting the Ash population is!
Yggdrasil - the world tree of Norse legend - is an Ash tree and according to Danish folklore, it is said that if Ash should ever disappear then the world would end. According to ecologists, the impact of the Ash dieback fungal infection coupled with the destructive activities of a bright emerald green beetle called the ash borer (which hasn’t arrived in Britain - yet) could, if undeterred, wipe out all the Ash trees in Europe.
But happily, there is hope in the form of resistant strains of ash and the use of techniques to prevent the infection of vulnerable ash seedlings in the first place which means we could, if we cared enough, fight back and keep Ash - currently the third most common tree in the British landscape - in its rightful place.
Springhead Ashscape - A First Step In Fighting Back!
Topics to be covered during the two dedicated speaker days on October 13th and 14th include an exploration of the resistance of Ash to dieback; the medicinal importance of Ash over the last 2,000 years and its potential contribution to modern medicine including the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease and obesity; a Dutch perspective on those ecosystems (plant and invertebrate) affected by the loss of Ash in the landscape and a Scandinavian perspective on regeneration and how to fight back against dieback with the identification of genetically-resistant material and the planting of the more resistant strains of European ash to replace those trees we are losing.
Written by Susan Clark
*Springhead Ashscape runs from October 10th - 15th and is open to the public on the two speaker days (October 13th & 14th) and on the final day which is being billed as Springhead Open Garden Day (October 15th) when a 75-strong choir will gather at the event to sing songs celebrating the history, folklore and importance of the Ash tree and where Professor Adrian Newton of Bournemouth University will offer visitors the chance to plug in and listen to the heartbeat of a living ash tree (yes, it actually vibrates to produce sound!)
(*Springhead Ashscape has been part funded by The Valentine Charitable Trust and a number of private donors)