Country on red alert as Ash Dieback is identified in a Co Leitrim plantation
As an island nation we have a distinct advantage over other European countries. As a direct result of being cut off from our nearest neighbour by sea, coupled with prevailing southwesterly winds, we enjoy the highest plant health status in Europe.
But these advantages were of little use this week when Ash Dieback was confirmed in plantations in Co Leitrim.The arrival of the disease in Ireland is bad news for Irish forestry growers and could be potentially disastrous for the sector if the fungus takes hold in plantations.
Ash Dieback disease is caused by the Chalara fraxinea fungus and the incidence is on the increase across Europe. The disease causes leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees, and it can lead to tree death. It is believed to spread from both nursery transplants and ash wood, consequently imports of nursery stock, firewood and wood for hurley manufacture in particular all pose a threat.
In Europe, ash trees suffering from symptoms likely to be caused by C. fraxinea have included trees in forests, in urban areas such as parks and gardens, and also tree nurseries.
First confirmed in eastern Europe in 1992 it has spread inexorably westwards and in Britain it was first found in February 2012 in a consignment of infected trees sent from a nursery in the Netherlands to a nursery in Buckinghamshire. Since then there have been further findings in Britain, both in nursery stock and at four recently planted sites.
Regrettably the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Forest Service confirmed just last week the first recorded instance of the disease at a site in Co Leitrim.
Over the last 20 years or so, thousands of Irish farmers have planted millions of ash trees on their land, and with good reason.
When planted on the right site, it is one of the few broadleaves that can show a reasonable return on investment during the owner's lifetime.