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Suffolk: Fungicide could protect county’s important trees in face of unstoppable ash dieback

10:00 23 February 2013

A healthy tree next to an ash tree with suspected ash die back at Arger Fen.

A healthy tree next to an ash tree with suspected ash die back at Arger Fen.

A NEW fungicide could save some of Suffolk’s most precious trees from unstoppable ash dieback, experts believe.

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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently in discussions with a number of companies that have proposed a general treatment for the toxic chalara fraxinea fungus.

Officials and experts, including Oliver Rackham, honorary professor of historical ecology at the University of Cambridge, who visited Bradfield Woods near Bury to assess the impact of dieback, have previously said they don’t believe the fungus can be contained.

But it is believed the Government hope that a fungicide could help save trees of special conservational value - such as coppice stools that exist in some of the county’s ancient woodlands.

Giles Cawston, reserves assistant for west Suffolk at Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT), said he was “hopeful” that a fungicide could help safeguard veterans.

He added: “Obviously we would have to look into it. The pathogen lays dormant in the leaf litter on the floor and that’s where it is in the winter time. If that can be neutralised by spraying that would a really good thing. What we don’t want to do is neutralise or sterilise the woodland floor as all good bacteria we rely on break down leaf mould and clean up the woodland.”

Mr Cawston said that at many SWT sites all the trees are valuable. He added: “At Arger Fen it is a 60 acres plot of land that six years ago was a ploughed field. There’s possibility three quarte5rs of a million ash trees on there and they’re all young, so those trees are all vitally important because within that area there are going to be some that are resilient to dieback. Those trees will be the ones that grow on and produce the seeds for the next generation of ash, they are so valuable as a conservation resources.”

According to information released by the Forestry Commission this week there are now 378 cases in the UK, many of which are concentrated around East Anglia. At least 50 of the cases are in Suffolk although a decision to remove nurseries from the official outbreak map means the figures in the county could be significantly higher. Although the recent cold snap has stopped the spread it is expected to resume in the following months when the Government will announce its plans to deal with the disease.

A Defra spokesman said: “Plant Health experts are assessing the likely efficacy and the potential impact on human health and the natural environment of various prospective treatments, and how they might be used if they proved to be successful in trials. Defra is working closely with stakeholders to develop an updated version of the chalara control plan which will include options for identifying “high-value” trees.”

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