Suffolk: Ash survival hopes as tree disease spreads

Oliver Rackham, left and Suffolk Wildlife Trust Chief Executive, Julian Roughton inspect the trees f

Oliver Rackham, left and Suffolk Wildlife Trust Chief Executive, Julian Roughton inspect the trees for ash die back at Bradfield Woods, Bradfield St George, Suffolk. - Credit: Andrew Partridge

The march of ash dieback through Suffolk’s tree population is now evident for all to see, wildlife bosses have said.

Scores of cases have now been officially registered across the region, with wildlife experts claiming that Forestry Commission maps are now lagging behind the true scale of epidemic.

But while Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) holds out little hope for any of their important reserves remaining chalara free, they now believe that the fungus is less deadly than previously reported.

Julian Roughton, chief executive of SWT, said: “As I drive around Suffolk you see a lot of ash clearly with chalara, so the Forestry Commission still doesn’t represent a true picture of the spread of the disease in Suffolk. It’s certainly continuing to spread.”

Mr Roughton said lab assessments at their ancient Bradfield Woods site had previously revealed that chalara was present, but there was no sign of the disease. However, the fungus was now clearly affecting coppice regrowth and SWT expects the disease to soon arrive at Groton Woods.

But there are some positive developments. Mr Roughton added: “What is interesting to note is that at Arger Fen, Hulbacks Grove, we are seeing regrowth from young trees that were severely affected by chalara, so they are still coming through.

“This matches what we heard at a seminar a month ago where there was someone from Copenhagen University who has been involved in studying ash dieback in Denmark.

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“The figures that were often quoted in the national media were that 90% of ash trees died in Denmark. He clarified that and said it was 90% of ash trees affected, but they weren’t dieing.

Mr Roughton said: “He described ash as very low resistant to chalara but very high resilient.

“They were severely affected but they are still alive. Obviously that’s really interesting, when we think about will ash be able to respond naturally to the disease.

“We are hopeful that it (dieback) will not be the devastating impact, quite as suddenly as we thought. But I think there will be an impact; trees will be very clearly affected.”

According to the Forestry Commission, there are 554 cases of dieback with about 70 in Suffolk. The county total is likely to be significantly higher due to the exclusion of nursery sites from the official map.