Act now to protect nation’s trees, urges CLA

14 October 2013

The CLA in the North is calling for action to help protect the nation's most cherished varieties of trees from a range of deadly diseases, pests and conditions.

A year on from the public being first made aware of ash dieback (chalara fraxinea) and its potential to deprive Britain of its ash in the way that elms disappeared in the 1970s, The CLA's forest and woodlands adviser Mike Seville reports the picture is getting worse.

With very little sign of relief, let alone a cure, the need to give woodlands the strength to recover and regenerate has become a priority according to Mr Seville, who has been assessing the extent of the various illnesses affecting ash, oak, larch, horse-chestnut and pine.

He said: "Research is being undertaken and scientists are working on the problem. The public is even being recruited to help, but there is little we can do until we can find ways to deal with all that is threatening our trees."

This summer the Government imposed a ban on the import of sweet chestnuts in a bid to prevent the blight - which attacks their bark - from getting a hold.

"The reality is that there is no cure for most of these killers so we will have to learn to live with them," added Mr Seville.

"But we can work to give them the best possible chance by keeping them as strong and as healthy as we can. We must try to ensure that even if we lose trees, entire woods do not disappear from our landscape.

"This would be helped by growing together a wider variety of trees in a range of ages, and ideally mixing broadleaves and conifers. Thus if one species were to be lost others might well survive."

The CLA is also calling for a range of additional measures to be taken including:

• reducing deer and grey squirrel numbers;
• re-introducing native species such as lime and aspen that have; disappeared from many woodlands;
• being more adventurous in non-native woodlands in species choice and mix; and
• recognising that not every tree needs to be a timber tree.

"Deer, which are increasing at an alarming rate, do immense damage as do grey squirrels, which are the scourge of broadleaved woodland. It is vital that a real effort is made to deal with both," explained Mr Seville.

But it is not just animals that threaten the health of trees, many of the threats have arrived on our shores as 'passengers' on imports – brought in to be sold through nurseries and garden centres or brought back in a suitcase from foreign holidays.

"The bigger the plant and its root ball, the greater the chance it could be hiding a new horror," said Mr Seville. "If we are to have a real chance of slowing the spread of new diseases we must all accept stronger import controls and curb our desire for new exotic plants and instant gardens. Our trees and woodlands are surely worth protecting."