THE UK government’s strategy on the fungal disease called ash dieback appears to be based on two premises, neither of which is known to be correct.
The first premise is that strains of ash resistant to the Chalara fungus exist. Yet foresters in Europe report that the species is vanishing (in Lithuania, for example) and warn of the folly of relying on resistant strains.
The second premise is that nothing can be done to save non-resistant strains of ash. Again, that may not be true. Who knows what advances may be made in future decades into protecting ash tree seedlings against dieback, or even combating the fungus directly?
It may be possible to save the genetic heritage of Britain’s ash trees by collecting ash keys (seeds) from representative native provenance trees and storing them in a seed-bank. If then at some time in the future a way is found to defeat the Chalara fungus, these seeds can be used to replant where they previously grew.
The probability of such a strategy succeeding may be small, but so would be its cost. However, without it, we stand almost no chance of saving the heritage of ash trees that have graced our lands for thousands of years. But time is of the essence: we have perhaps a year or so to collect uninfected ash keys. After that, quite simply, it will be too late.
There is an urgent need for the Scottish Government to authorise and organise this strategy. Or will we just stand by and witness the permanent loss of ash trees from our land?