Ash Dieback, a disease of ash trees, is attributed to a fungal pathogen called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, (previously Chalara fraxinea). The disease was discovered for the first time in Poland in 1992 but the pathogen was not properly described by scientists until 2006. This made diagnosis difficult.
The disease was first detected here in 2012 on imported ash plants in newly planted woodlands. We have been monitoring the presence of the disease since then, and are now finding the disease at widely dispersed locations in Northern Ireland where it is present on native ash both in the hedgerows and in older trees. The same situation exists in the Republic of Ireland.
Our view is that the disease will continue to spread through the native ash population, just as it has done in GB and continental Europe. Over time increasing numbers of native trees will display crown dieback symptoms, but some individual trees may survive because they have inherited resistance to the disease or the growing conditions will inhibit infection.
Previously, Ministers agreed that DAERA Forest Service and the Irish Government’s Department of Agriculture Food and Marine (DAFM) should produce the All Ireland Chalara Control Strategy, and this was launched in July 2013. Our joint aims were to contain and minimise the spread of the disease, leading to eradication. Since 2012 the Forest Service has spent over £0.5 million finding and destroying infected plants, but the disease is still spreading. The evidence strongly suggests that containment and eradication are no longer practicable.
Why we are consulting
Early detection and action to destroy infected plants may have slowed the spread of the disease. Nevertheless, the evidence now points to the fact that the disease is still spreading. Consequently, we do not believe that we can justify continuing that approach.
Instead, we are now consulting about less intrusive and more reasonable cost methods of control that will help us live with the disease. We will continue to support landowners and those with responsibility for ash trees by offering guidance, and we will consider the case for limited financial support for restitution of infected woodlands.
We believe that continuing collaborative working with stakeholders to manage the disease is important. We suggest that the emphasis on finding and reporting disease on a statutory basis should change to a voluntary one, and be expanded to include training volunteers to observe the spread of disease and gather evidence about the natural resistance of native trees to the disease.
In common with GB and the Republic of Ireland, to reduce the risk of further infection we will retain the legislation controlling the importation of potentially infected ash plants for planting. We will review the measures on the importation of ash wood.
You are one of a wide range of stakeholders engaging in this consultation. This includes those with an interest in the economic and environmental benefits of ash in our landscape and plantations. You are invited to consider the evidence provided and give your views on this matter.