As the number of sites infected with ash die-back doubles to 291 in just a month, researchers are trying to beat the disease by 'crowd sourcing' the scientific community to analyse the genes of the fungus that causes it. But has the government already given up the fight?
Genetic data collected from infected trees in Ashwellthorpe wood in Norfolk have been posted on the Sainsbury Laboratory website at the new OpenAshDieback site, with the aim of finding out what makes the fungus that causes dieback – and the best methods to halt or slow its spread.
Similarly, the Forestry Commission has developed a new on-line Tree Alert Reporting Tool for the general public to complete and help tackle the spread of the disease.
Last week the government published a new plan to tackle ash dieback, alongside the Tree and Plant Health Task Force’s interim report, set up by Professor Ian Boyd, Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser, to assess the current disease threats to the UK.
The Chalara Control Plan sets out the government’s objectives for tackling the disease and outlines what further action they will take over the next few months. The plan also re-affirms the government‘s commitment to focus its efforts on:
reducing the rate of spread
developing resistance to the disease in the native UK ash tree population
encouraging citizen, landowner and industry engagement and action in tackling the problem
building resilience in the UK woodland and associated industries.
However, many conservation organisations believe commitments set out in the plan are too weak and won't be enough to control the spread of the disease, effectively surrendering the British landscape before ways of reducing the rate of spread have been fully investigated.
Government seem reluctant to continue its programme of tracing, testing and destroying infected young ash trees and is proposing almost no action in areas of the country already infected.
Concern has also been expressed that the action plan refers repeatedly to the cost of immediate intervention but makes little reference to the long term costs that farmers, woodland owners, local authorities, gardeners and the government itself will face as this disease spreads across the country.
The Government has already introduced a number of control measures to reduce the speed of spread. A ban on the import of ash trees and movement of trees around the country will remain in place. Landowners and conservation organisations will also continue to work with government agencies to check sites across the UK for signs of infected trees. More advice for climbers and walkers can be accessed here.
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