‘Uncertainty’ around ash dieback concerning forest owners

There are significant concerns in relation to ash dieback in Ireland, according to the chairman of the Limerick and Tipperary Woodland Owners (LTWO) group, Colum Walsh.

It was just one of the issues raised at the group’s recent annual general meeting (AGM), which was attended by approximately 120 members.

Speaking to AgriLand, Walsh said: “Currently, forest owners that may have ash dieback are unsure of what to do.

They are scared to declare they could have infected trees, in case the forest service enforces strict time lines for site clearances and compliance upon the forest owner.

“Other ash growers are very angry and annoyed that such a disease was let enter the country via imported ash saplings from continental Europe, and feel they have been let down by the forest service.

“It is a big decision for a farmer to plant some of his or her land. In some cases in Limerick, Tipperary and Kilkenny, very productive land was planted with ash forests and it is now rendered almost worthless as a result of the disease.

“If this occurred in any other farming sector – dairy, beef or tillage – there would be outrage. It certainly isn’t encouraging landowners into the hardwood plantation sector.

“As it stands, the ash growers of Ireland have been left hanging in the wind with the spores of ash dieback,” the chairman of the LTWO said. Information about the group is available online.

Ash dieback disease

Ash dieback or chalara disease affects ash trees and is caused by a fungus, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The disease can affect ash trees of any age and in any setting. The evidence also shows younger trees succumb far more rapidly, whilst older trees can survive initial episodes of infection – possibly for many years, the department added.

There are a wide range of symptoms associated with the disease, the most visible include:
  • Necrotic lesions and cankers, often diamond shaped, along the bark of branches or main stem;
  • Foliage wilt;
  • Foliage discolouration (brown or black discolouration at the base and midrib of leaves);
  • Dieback of shoots, twigs or main stem – resulting in crown dieback;
  • Epicormic branching or excessive side shoots along the main stem;
  • Brown or orange discolouration of bark.

The origins of the disease are – as yet – not certain; but scientists have suggested the disease may have been introduced to Europe from eastern Asia, the department explains.

First detection in Ireland

The first confirmed finding of the disease was detected on October 12, 2012, at a forestry plantation site in Co. Leitrim. The site had reportedly been planted in 2009 with trees imported from continental Europe.

Shortly thereafter all the recently planted ash trees on that site were destroyed under departmental supervision.

The ash trees on another 10 sites where trees from the same batch were planted out – approximately 33,000 plants in total – were also destroyed as a precautionary measure, the department added.

Detections

The most recent figures show that – up to July 31, 2017 – findings of ash dieback disease have been confirmed in a total of 384 forestry plantations, across 24 counties.

ash dieback
Distribution map of confirmed findings of ash dieback in Ireland (as of July 31, 2017). The locations of commercial nurseries and garden centres are not depicted. Image source: Department of Agriculture

In the first seven months of last year, notable increases in the frequency of findings in forestry plantations were recorded in counties Tipperary, Kilkenny, Wexford, Kildare, Meath, Cavan, and Clare, the department explained.

Ash was delisted by the department as a tree species approved under the afforestation grant schemes in December 2012 – similar action was taken under the agri-environment options scheme (AEOS/GLAS) shortly thereafter.

Meanwhile, in March 2013, a Reconstitution Scheme was established to restore forests planted under the afforestation scheme which had suffered from or which were associated with plants affected by the ash dieback disease.

Up until the end of July last year, some €3.4 million had been paid out under the scheme and over 967ha of infected and associated ash plantations had been cleared and replanted or were in the process of being replanted with alternative species, according to department.
Image source: Department of Agriculture

Reporting suspect cases

Forest owners, forest nursery staff and members of the public are asked to be vigilant for the disease and report – with photographs, if possible – any sites where there are concerns about unusual ill health in ash.

They can do so by contacting the forest service in the department by calling: 01-6072651 or by emailing:  [email protected].