Suffolk: The great chalara ash fight-back

Suffolk Wildlife Trust's, West Suffolk site manager, Will Cranstoun (COR) and West Suffolk reserve a

Suffolk Wildlife Trust's, West Suffolk site manager, Will Cranstoun (COR) and West Suffolk reserve assistant, Giles Cawston, right, checking the ash trees at Arger Fen, Assington, near Sudbury, for suspected ash die back ( chalara fraxinea). - Credit: Andrew Partridge

A PIONEERING scheme to find trees resistant to chalara dieback of ash will begin in Suffolk this week.

Scientists from the Forestry Commission and Forest Research are using a two hectare site at Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) nature reserve Arger Fen and Spouse’s Grove, near Assington, to study genetic resistance to the toxic fungus.

The East Anglian Daily Times revealed in March that SWT was keen to be involved with the project at its Hulback’s Grove site, which is one of the largest areas of naturally regenerated woodland in East Anglia.

The reserve was one of the first in the country to have confirmed cases of the disease.

The five year project, which will be fenced off to prevent deer grazing, is one of a number of trial plots scattered across East Anglia and eastern Kent.

Experts believe a small percentage of ash trees could be resistant to the disease, making the research an important part of plans to secure the next generation of ash.

Steve Aylward, property manager at SWT, said about 15 different strains of ash will be planted on the site this week, amounting to thousands of saplings. He added: “They will start going in any day, if they haven’t started now. This project is really about establishing if are there any strains of native ash tree in the UK that are naturally resistant to the chalara fungus.”

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According to the Forestry Commission’s outbreak map, there are now 490 confirmed chalara cases across the UK, an increase of about 90 since March. Sixty-seven of the cases are in Suffolk, an increase of about 17 in just under two months.

More cases are expected to be reported in June and July when chalara spores are released but Mr Aylward said the project on SWT land could give increased confidence. He added: “I suppose what it will do is that if strains of ash can be identified that are naturally resistant to chalara it will give people confidence that in parts of country where ash is dying it can be replanted with a strain of resistant ash. For new woodland projects, you can confidently plant a chalara resistant strain of ash.”

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