Sign up for our Free email Newsletter
and get all the latest wildlife news!

Browse Old Articles


Ash trees disease could have major repercussions for wildlife

30/10/2012 12:40:47

Photo caption - Pocota personata a spectular and scarce hoverfly that breed in rot-holes of mature trees including ash © Steven Falk


Why on earth do we import ash trees from abroad anyway? There are an estimated 80 million in the UK, and they grow well and easily, what possible reason is there for importing  ash trees, or many other species of plants and animals, from overseas? 

RSPB reacts to Government ban on importing ash trees

October 2012. Ash dieback disease was first confirmed in Britain in February 2012 at a tree nursery in Buckinghamshire. The cases last week (26 October) at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Lower Wood reserve in Ashwellthorpe (an ancient woodland and a Site of Special Scientific Interest) and the Woodland Trust's Pound Farm woodland in Suffolk confirmed that the disease had spread into the wild.

Ash dieback disease is caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea. It results in leaf loss and crown dieback in the affected trees and has the potential to devastate the ash tree population.

The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust welcomes the ban on the import of ash trees but fears it may be too late to stop the disease from spreading.

Most of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust's woodland nature reserves are noted as oak/ash woodlands with fine, mature examples of both species being found. A diverse range of insects and lichens are also found living on ash trees. The loss of ash trees in these woodlands, and in the wider countryside, will fundamentally change the character of our woodlands and landscape. Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust field staff are fully aware of the symptoms of the disease. But with the autumn leaf fall, tracking the disease is going to be difficult.

Invertebrates in trouble

29 invertebrate species rely almost entirely on ash for survival including the Tawny pinion moth and Cramp-ball fungus weevil - they are not known to be associated with any other tree. Seven species of invertebrate that rely on Ash are considered rare, including the Barred tooth-stripe moth and a Hering's leaf mining fly.

Buglife CEO Matt Shardlow, said "Nearly 100 invertebrate species feed on ash, including rarities such as the Ash-bud moth and the Waxy ash aphid. Following the catastrophe of Dutch elm disease the Dusky-lemon sallow and White spotted pinion moth and many other elm dependent animals severely suffered.

If Ash dieback causes a similar loss of Ash trees then dozens of animals will suffer, especially those that rely on Ash, such as Tawny pinion moth and Cramp-ball fungus weevil. "

The first records in the UK were all associated with imported ash trees in nurseries and tree plantings. While the outbreak may be the result of fungal spores being carried by wind across mainland Europe, the movement of contaminated soil or plant material is the most likely pathway.

Matt Said "For many years Buglife has called for the importation of pot plants to be banned and this disease emphasises the extreme danger of a laissez faire approach to the movement of live plants."

Martin Harper, the RSPB's Director of Conservation, said: "Ash trees are the crowd pleasers of nature; they do a lot for all kinds of different animals and plants, from providing great roosting sites and warm holes to nest in, to perfect places to forage for food and ideal spots to flourish and grow. Birds, bats, fungi, plants, insects and more all use ash trees in one way or another meaning this disease has the potential to damage ecosystems in a big way.

"This is a stark reminder that non-native plants and animals can wreak havoc on already over-stressed habitats and native wildlife. While we welcome the Government's ban on imports, it is not enough in itself. The EU is currently developing new international legislation on invasive non-native species and this is a major opportunity to prevent future problems. The big lesson here is that sometimes, strong environmental regulation is needed to protect all our interests."

Ian Wright, plant health specialist at the National Trust said: "We welcome the Government's ban on the import of ash trees into the UK. We are very concerned about what effect this disease will have on a key historic species - and on our landscapes.

"As well as the high risk for country wide losses, we are particularly concerned about the significant number of our older ash trees. Many, over 300 years old, grow on National Trust land. If this devastating disease took hold it would radically change some of our most special landscapes and places forever as well as the wildlife these ash trees support which includes rare lichens, bryophytes and invertebrates.

Detailed information on the disease and recognising the main symptoms can be found on the Forestry Commission website at

Read the comments about this article and leave your own comment

To post a comment you must be logged in.

New user? Register here


Click join and we will email you with your password. You can then sign on and join the discussions right away.