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Defra Ash Dieback Strategy 2019 – RFS Statement
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The Royal Forestry Society (RFS) has welcomed the Ash Dieback Strategy launched this month, bringing together the evidence and threats to ash from Ash Dieback (ADB) and the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) beetle and identifying future research needs.

John Gibbs By Wall
John Gibbs says: “By identifying priority research themes and activities within these themes, the strategy provides a good basis of support for Defra’s ash policy."

And looks forward, in particular, to hearing more detail on the developing approaches to a better understanding of the extent to which we can anticipate likely ADB/EAB impact or progression based on site factors  such as site type, species composition and diversity, ash density, aspect, soil, mycorrizal fungi, associated micro-organisms, grazing etc.

The Strategy, published by Defra, can be read in full here. It will identify future research needs to protect ash and restore it to the British landscape and was developed with partners including plant pathologist John Newton Gibbs representing RFS.

The RFS had stressed the need for detailed monitoring of the impact of ADB in different ash populations across the country and this has broadly been covered by the strategy which will require the development of more standardised, structured and joined up long-term monitoring approaches, optimising use of stakeholders, citizen science, networks and technology.

John Gibbs says: “By identifying priority research themes and activities within these themes, the strategy provides a good basis of support for Defra’s ash policy. That part of the project that will provide hard data on the impact of the disease in different parts of the country and in ash growing on different types of site will be invaluable for bodies with an interest in land use like the RFS, the CLA or the National Trust. So also will data on year to year variation in disease severity, as for example may be caused by differences in the summer weather: the time when spore release and infection takes place.”

Defra has already committed to funding several key research activities including ongoing screening by Forest Research and Future Trees Trust for ash trees tolerant to ash dieback. In early 2020 the Trust will be planting an archive of tolerant trees which will be a key resource for a future breeding programme.

Helping launch the strategy, Defra’s Chief Plant Health Officer Nicola Spence said: “Since ash dieback was identified in 2012, we have invested more than £6m in ash dieback research and £4.5m to strengthen border security. We currently have some of the strongest import controls in Europe. But we want to go even further to protect our ash trees which is why we have developed the ash research strategy, a new document which will help us determine how to ensure ash trees remain in our landscape for future generations to enjoy.”

Jo Clark, Head of Research at FTT and project lead for the Living Ash Project, said: “We are really excited to be working with Forest Research and Defra. Some of the trees which have been sourced from trials and stands right across the country show a high degree of tolerance to ash dieback. The forest industry has come together to help identify these trees for future breeding work.”