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Tuesday 23 October 2018

Citizen science to help fight Ash Dieback woes

The public is being asked to report information about the health of ash trees.
The public is being asked to report information about the health of ash trees.

William Merivale

The Future Trees Trust is one of the partners in a new initiative, the Living Ash Project, which is asking members of the public to report information about the health of ash trees.

They are especially interested in trees that may have some tolerance to the disease - Chalara ash dieback - that is threatening our second-most common broadleaved tree.

Evidence from Denmark, where Chalara ash dieback is more prevalent, indicates that approximately 1pc of trees show good tolerance to the disease.

While tolerant trees may regenerate naturally in some woodlands, identifying these trees is an urgent priority to ensure a genetically diverse and resilient population for future woodland planting.

Identifying tolerant trees and including their progeny in breeding programmes run by the Living Ash Project will enable the large-scale production of resilient trees.

The project is deploying citizen science – asking members of the public to help in gathering information – to aid in the identification of tolerant trees.

Working with the University of East Anglia's Adapt Group, a new function has been added to the AshTag app.

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By logging into the site at www.ashtag.org/sightings/ submit, anyone can report on the perceived health of an ash tree, not just this year, but over the next few years.

Gabriel Hemery, chief executive at the Sylva Foundation says: "The launch of this survey is a milestone in the development of the project.

"We will be working closely with AshTag to oversee the online survey and look forward to receiving submissions from members of the public."

Chris Blincoe, programme manager at the Adapt Group, University of East Anglia, is hopeful the initiative can be successful.

"By asking members of the public across the UK and Ireland to track the health of their local ash trees, we can tap into a wealth of data which could hold the key to locating tolerant trees and safeguard the future of our ash trees," he says.

The Living Ash Project team are most interested in larger trees but any tree can be surveyed.

Location is also important because the genetics of ash trees vary across the country.

Ideally, the trees selected need to be surveyed every year for at least three years to build up a detailed picture of the trees' health.

The ash dieback fungus has devastated ash populations across Europe since first appearing in the early 1990s – the first confirmed case in Ireland was in October 2012.

The fungus causes leaf loss and crown dieback and can kill young ash trees in one growing season

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