The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has launched a consultation on its approach to Ash Dieback as the spread of the disease continues.

Since it was first discovered here in 2012 on imported ash plants, the fungal disease has continued to spread despite efforts to contain and eradicate the outbreak.

Found on native ash

The department’s Forest Service has been monitoring the presence of the disease since the initial discovery. It is 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.

Diane Stevenson from DAERA Forest Service explained: “To date the aim has been to contain and minimise the spread of the disease, leading to eradication. Forest Service has invested in finding and destroying infected plants, but the disease is still spreading.

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. In light of this, and scientific research, we do not believe that we can justify continuing that approach.”

New methods

Instead, the department is now consulting on using less intrusive and more practicable methods of control that will focus on the impact of the disease. Stakeholders are being urged to make their views known during the consultation, which runs until February 5.

Stevenson added: “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.”

Respondents are invited to consider the evidence provided and give their views online.