As Chalara ash dieback spreads across the British Isles, we aim to identify and secure ash trees that show good tolerance to Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus – the fungus that causes ash dieback (formerly known as Chalara fraxinea) – and use these individuals to form the nucleus of a future breeding programme.
We will be assessing the many thousands of trees that exist already in a breeding programme for ash, and we will use citizen science to screen the wider population. We will produce trees that show good tolerance to the fungus, and plant them on the public forest estate as an archive, freely available to the forest industry.
We will also develop techniques to enable us to rapidly produce large numbers of tolerant trees for reforestation.
This project will run for five years and is funded by Defra.
We need to find ash trees across Britain that are tolerant to Chalara ash dieback. Can you help?
We use the Ashtag website to enable people to report on ash trees that are tolerant (to some degree) to Chalara ash dieback. We are most interested in larger trees but any tree can be surveyed. We are particularly keen to survey ash trees in every corner of Britain, because the genetics of ash trees vary across the country. Ideally, the trees selected need to be surveyed every year for at least three years, so that a detailed picture of their health is built up. Ultimately, trees that appear to have some tolerance to Chalara ash dieback will be sampled by taking cuttings, and will enter a programme aiming to breed tolerant trees to secure a future for ash trees in Britain.
The survey consists of five questions and is simple to complete.
If your tree(s) appears to be tolerant, in the future you may be contacted by a scientist from the Living Ash Project who may be interested in sampling the tree to enter into the breeding programme.
The Living Ash Project is a Defra-funded consortium comprising representatives from Earth Trust, Future Trees Trust, Sylva Foundation and Forest Research. It aims to identify a large and diverse number of ash trees with good tolerance to Chalara ash dieback, to secure this material for further breeding work, and to quickly make this material available to industry.
There are an estimated 120 million ash trees in Britain in woodlands and hedgerows. Evidence from Denmark where the disease is more prevalent indicates that approximately 1% of trees show good resistance (less than 10% crown dieback) which is under moderately strong genetic control. Similar levels of tolerance would equate to 1.2 million potentially resistant trees in Britain.
While natural selection in some woodlands may provide resistant regeneration, the identification of resistant trees is needed as the basis for a genetically diverse and resilient population for future productive woodland plantings, as envisaged in the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report and Defra’s Chalara Management Plan.
The Living Ash Project aims to secure ash trees for the future that show resistance to Chalara ash dieback. It is important that at least a good proportion of trees that make it through a screening programme will be suitable for timber production to ensure a continued supply of this valuable product for the future.
The project partners have been working on breeding ash for improved timber characteristics (form and vigour) for over twenty years and in this
time have assembled a substantial collection of genotypes. Three hundred and eighty "superior" trees have been selected in the wild across Britain, and 114 selected in Ireland, and replicated either in progeny trials (from seed) or in clonal seed orchards (as grafted cuttings). In addition, we manage 18 provenance trials containing over 40,000 trees of material from across ash's native range.
The project incorporates work programmes to:
The project will also employ citizen science to aid in the identification of tolerant trees and based on experience from Denmark and elsewhere, explore the use of phenology (leaf flushing and senescence) to help find tolerant trees.
In total, including in-kind contributions from the many partners, the project will cost approximately £1.2M and will take around six years to complete.Image courtesy of Fera
Earth Trust is an environmental learning charity that encourages and helps people to live more sustainably. Pioneering research into broadleaved trees for 20 years, the Earth Trust owns and manages Paradise Wood, a national research woodland, as well as a landscape which includes semi-natural woodlands, new plantings and farm woods. Paradise Wood is a unique resource holding the largest genetic collection of hardwood timber trees in the UK and the largest number of tree improvement trials in Great Britain and Ireland. The Earth Trust’s learning and engagement focuses on many audiences from the general public to industry and land management practitioners, covering a wide range of themes relevant to our countryside and landscape, such as future forests, living histories, water and wetlands, and food and farming.
For more information, visit earthtrust.org.uk or call Jo Clark on 01865 409411
Sylva Foundation is a forestry charity working to revive Britain's wood culture. Registered in both England & Wales, and in Scotland, it supports about one thousand woodland owners across Britain in managing their woodlands sustainably through the myForest service. It also runs a range of science and education initiatives including a research scholarship with the University of Oxford, the British Woodlands Survey, the OneOak project, SilviFuture, and sponsored The New Sylva book.
For more information, visit sylva.org.uk or call Gabriel Hemery on 01865 408018
Future Trees Trust is a registered charity dedicated to encouraging the breeding of broadleaved trees to improve their growth rate, form and resilience to disease and a warming climate. Their vision is to realise economic, social and environmental benefits so that by 2050, anyone planting broadleaved woodland can do so using trees that will produce the maximum volume of recoverable timber. Their membership comprises tree breeders, silviculturalists, foresters and practitioners from across the forestry sector.
For more information, visit futuretrees.org or call Tim Rowland on 01453 884264
The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the lead government department responsible for tree and plant health issues. Plant Health is one of Defra’s top 4 priorities.
Defra published the Chalara Management Plan (CMP) in March 2013. The implementation measures in the plan relate to England only, as Devolved Administrations are publishing their own plans. The CMP recognises that we can’t stop Chalara from spreading but that we can focus on reducing the rate of spread while we look for genetic strains of ash that will be resistant to Chalara. Project of this nature will be important to the successful implementation of the CMP.
Forest Research is an agency of the Forestry Commission and is one of the world's leading centres of research into woodlands and forestry. It aims to provide robust quality science to inform the development and delivery of UK Government and devolved administration forest policies and to provide the evidence base for sustainable forest management.
For more information, visit forestry.gov.uk/forestresearch.