Public help in the ash dieback fight welcomed

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Public interest in ash dieback is extremely valuable in fighting the disease, East Anglia’s Forestry Commission director has said.

The commission organised a plant health conference at Ickworth House on Monday to keep 200 woodland owners and arboriculturists informed of what i needs to be done.

But FC area director Steve Scott praised the help the general public have also given.

“The public interest over ash dieback has been unprecedented,” he said. “I can’t put my finger on why that’s the case. The oak is more iconic but oak decline has had nothing like the interest.

“But that interest could be extremely valuable. It’s upped everybody’s interest in care of forestry and has brought in more funding to help with this and other diseases.”

He said the University of East Anglia’s Ash Tag app, which enables people to upload a tree’s picture and GPS position, had been a great success and is being improved.

Delegates heard myths exploded, like the claim it has killed 90 per cent of ash trees on the continent. It has affected 90 per cent but does not kill mature trees, though it leaves them open to other infections.

Mr Scott said that over winter the commission would be working with woodland owners to look at ways to control the disease to slow its spread.

But he urged people not to fell ash trees. “Some trees will have a natural resistance and if you fell trees that can’t express itself,” he said.

Mr Scott warned that ash dieback is not the only tree disease causing problems.

“About a dozen pests and diseases have come to these shores in the past 10 years,” he said.

In the east there are three main ones. Acute oak dieback has killed a number of mature oaks. Red band needle blight affects conifers and has infected 80 per cent of Thetford Forests stands. But Mr Scott said: “The worrying one is sweet chestnut blight which has been found in Britain and is said to be more virulent than ash dieback.”

Chestnut is important for fencing and to wildlife, because it is widely coppiced in some parts of the country.