Hurl maker wary of ash tree threat

FUNGAL DISEASE SWEEPS EUROPE

MYLES BUCHANAN

Published 28/11/2012 | 08:50

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Hurl maker David Moran.

THE CLASH of the ash could be a thing of the past if the disease decimating trees throughout Europe takes hold.

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Measures are currently being put in place to try to keep the fungal disease in check.

The ash tree has long been synonymous with the manufacture of hurls due to the unique properties of the wood itself.

However, an outbreak of a rampant fungal disease called Chalara fraxinea means dwindling ash supplies could jepordise the numbers of hurleys made each year.

Ireland's first case of the ash disease was reported last week when the Forest Service detected it in Co. Leitrim.

The infected ash trees were planted as recently as 2009 using imported plants. It is believed that 5,000 ash were planted in the Leitrim site from a batch of 35,000 plants.

A Forest Service spokesperson in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) said the trees have been burned and ' the remaining trees imported in this batch are also being destroyed'.

The disease is deemed 'out of control' in the UK, where there are over 80 million ash trees, while 90 per cent of Denmark's ash population has already been wiped out.

The Department of Agriculture has banned the import of all young ash plants from infected areas, while any imported ash wood first has to be de-barked and dried.

David Moran, a hurley maker from Avondale, Rathdrum, explains how the disease takes hold.

'When the leaves fall from the trees, the spores on the leaves burst and get into the bark. Now any imported ash will have to be debarked and dried in kilns or drying rooms. All imported ash will have to have around 20 per cent moisture content.'

Around 350,000 hurleys are manufactured a year in Ireland, with about 65 per cent made from imported ash. While David tries to use as much locally sourced ash as possible, he acknowledges that the outbreak of Chalara fraxinea across Europe could result in a shortage of ash wood.

' There is a shortage problem all over Europe. People are now going to find it twice as hard to import ash into Ireland because of the restrictions in place. I try to use as much local ash as possible but there simply isn't enough timber in Ireland to sustain the hurley making industry. It could affect the price of timber as well as all the ash has to be dried abroad before it is imported over here.'

The Department of Agriculture has acted swiftly to ensure the disease doesn't take hold in Ireland, and David feels it is too early to make predictions on what impact it may have on the productions of hurls. ' The amount of business I carry out is based on orders. I'm sure there will a few little things to iron out because of the new protocols, but once they are followed things should work out.'

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