Let’s do something about the Ash Die Back (Chalara fraxinea fungus)

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Background

There is a fungal disease of Ash trees heading our way. It is already widespread in Norfolk and will probably be here within ten years. It has come from Eastern Europe and appears to kill 98% of all young Ash trees. The experience in Europe indicates that we will lose between 60% and 90% of the mature trees and those not killed outright will be much more susceptible to other tree diseases. This will be a disaster for the Teifi valley, Ash is one of our most common native trees.

For more information see http://www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara

It seems that there is nothing realistic we can do to prevent the die off. But there may be something we can do to recover this important and most useful tree in the valley. If nothing is done the Ash will be replaced by Sycamore and Goat Willow. These trees are not as useful to us as Ash. Ash along with Oak is the best fire wood tree we have. It also supplies excellent tool handles, in fact many items were made from Ash in the past, these include hay cribs, car and cart frames, gates, hurdles and tent pegs etc. In the future when cost and access to the materials that modern alternatives are made from become prohibitive the valley dwellers of that time will appreciate access to the resource we have now. They will certainly appreciate the firewood. Ash is also a host tree for the predator of the Oak leaf roller moth, without which our Oak stands may become susceptible as the local climate continues to warm.

Why we need our own Teifi Valley Ash Trees

There is something we can do. In England the Forestry Commission have planted 155,000 trees in a fungus infected areas. They would expect to have about 300 “resistant” trees survive from which to breed replacement stock. This is the right idea and the Forestry Commission deserve all praise for this however there is a problem. There is not enough genetic diversity in such a small sample of survivors. The best example of what can go wrong with this is the English Elm tree. In the 1970’s and 80’s another fungal disease spread by a bark boring beetle which wiped out the mature Elms that were such a delightful part of the English countryside. A part of the reason for this occurrence was a lack of genetic diversity in the Elm trees. In the 1600’s – 1800’s the landowners had widely planted the Elm across England. Unfortunately these trees were genetic clones (the same) probably from a few trees brought in Roman times as vine supports. This predisposed the English Elm to attack by the fungal disease. Something similar is likely to happen with Ash if we start over from a small sample of the gene pool. For the history of the Elm see http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulmus_procera

What we can do

What we are suggesting is that we organise and implement a similar if not some what larger project for the Teifi valley Ash trees.

This would involve collecting and recording as wide a sample of Ash keys from across the valley and planting them in marked locations in infected ground in Norfolk. We can then use the source trees of the survivors to breed up and propagate replacement stock that can be widely planted as soon as possible.

We would like J A Wagstaff BSc PGCE to write a detailed and researched report and project plan defining and specifying the problem and the proposed solution. We are asking for some support for the costs associated with this initial phase. We estimate this to be around £3000.

Can you help?                        

Can you donate or fundraise for this project?

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RST Visits Cardigan Show

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Rural Skills Trust at 2014 Cardigan Show

At the Cardigan Show, the Rural Skills Trust’s practical and mobile field set-up for working on local farms stood in clear contrast to the glistening, gleaming  industrial agricultural machinery.  The Trust attracted much attention and interest from show-goers.  Many people stopped to rest in the shade of our field shelter, on a beautiful July day, and discuss the critical importance of rural skills, the history of the tools used, and the current issues affecting woodland, particularly Ash Die Back.

Rural Skills Trust spent the day demonstrating green wood-working, basketry and a range of tools for hedge-laying and coppice management.   Hedge-laying and Coppice Management are important skills to learn.  These courses will teach both practice with a wide range of traditional tools, and generate substantial benefits for both the farms and the wildlife.

Rural Skills Trust are also deeply concerned about the fate of Ash Trees in the Teifi Valley.  The Ash Tree, one of our most common native trees and an extremely useful woodland resource, is under threat from a fungal disease.  The disease appears to kill more than 99% of trees.  Rural Skills Trust are initiating a project to save the Teifi Valley Ash, by proposing a project to collect and record a wide sample of local ash keys. Planting them in infected ground in Eastern England, and noting the surviving trees and using those parent trees as a seed source back in the Teifi valley as local replacement stock.