Friday 23 November 2012

Ash Dieback: The Key

I was enjoying a revivifying beer on the homeward train last night when I noticed, on the table at which I sat, a single ash key. It must have blown in through the window from a lineside tree. They're everywhere at the moment, these winged (or rather tailed) seeds of the ash tree, and large numbers of them will strike a root and a shoot and grow from sprig to sapling to mature tree - or will they? If the dire predictions of the effects of Ash Dieback disease are to be believed, we could be about to see the near-extinction of one of our most abundant and beautiful trees - a grim prospect...
Later that evening, on the radio, I caught the naturalist and writer Peter Marren talking about Ash Dieback, and he was very clear about how and why this disease reached our shore - as a product of our stupid craze for planting trees, especially so-called 'natives', in vast numbers, under the impression that this is self-evidently a Good Thing. It is not: tree planting can be more of a problem than a solution. As practised at present, it creates unhealthily dense plantations, not woodlands. And it inflates demand to the point where it can only be met by imported trees - which, in the natural course of things, are more than likely to bring pathogens into the country with them. Marren expands his argument in this piece.
I'm not sure the effects of Ash Dieback will be as severe in this country as they were in Denmark (90 percent loss). It may be that we have more resistant strains here, capable of withstanding the disease - we'll find out in the next year or two. But whatever happens, I do hope it will get all those involved to think hard about the wisdom of mass tree planting and, especially, of importing trees.

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