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Ash Dieback

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This new disease, caused by a fungus, which was confirmed in the UK in February 2012, has been skirting the Forest for some time with various locations known in South Essex for three years or more. However, it almost certainly arrived in eastern England much earlier than these first observations.

We have been actively monitoring groups of ash across the Forest since 2013 and finally, in June 2016, a sufficient suite of symptoms was observed in at least two areas.

The trees with symptoms are very young ash saplings and, based on observations elsewhere across Europe, these will succumb to the infection quickly. The wilting and blackening leaves of these young trees are likely to become very apparent over the next few years. Older trees may show signs this year but are also likely to resist the disease for some time. In their weakened state, however, secondary agents - including honey fungus - are likely to eventually kill them.

As the disease is transferred through the tiny wind-borne spores over many kilometres, and is well established across England and Wales, there is no effective action that can be taken to prevent its spread. However, our monitoring work will continue because observations of any trees showing signs of resistance to the fungus could be of great importance. A recently published nationwide study demonstrated that there is a high genetic diversity in ash across the UK, and this offers some hope that this tree species can retain a foothold in the landscape in the long term. Given that Epping Forest contains many ancient and natural populations of trees, including ash, it may well prove to be an important site for such diversity.

In the main body of the Forest, ash is scattered as clusters along rides and in open areas, and the death of trees may go relatively unnoticed. Howver, in the Lower Forest and along Epping Forest's boundaries and ancient green lanes, the impact on biodiversity and landscape is likely to be severe. There are many older, hollow ash in these areas, including some irreplaceable ancient pollards. As well as the specialist wildlife which they support, these trees provide a large number of the nesting sites for the many hole-nesting birds like jackdaws, stock doves, woodpeckers, kestrels and even barn owls.

So, in addition to the scientific monitoring of the progress of the disease, we will endeavour to record these important trees, their losses, and the changes to the Forest's landscape so that we can heighten awareness of the value and vulnerability of our natural habitats and this special place.

More detailed and interesting information on this disease, updated regularly, can be found with the Forestry Commission.

Published:
14 December 2016
Last Modified:
02 August 2017

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