Living with Ash Dieback: Scientists concede eradication of disease wreaking havoc on our ash trees no longer feasible

Dead leaves hang on an infected Ash tree
Dead leaves hang on an infected Ash tree
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Ireland must learn to live with the fungal diease which has wreaked havoc on ash plantations across the country as the latest scientific evidence suggesting that eradication of the disease is no longer possible.

Chalara or Ash Dieback disease is a disease of ash trees caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus.

Dieback symptoms in ash had been first noted in Poland in the early 1990s without any identifiable cause.

The origins of the disease are not certain, but scientists have suggested the disease may have been introduced to Europe from eastern Asia.

A young Common Ash Tree with wilting leaves shows the symptoms of dieback
A young Common Ash Tree with wilting leaves shows the symptoms of dieback

The fungus which causes the disease has a complex life cycle.

Infection first makes its way into a tree when the spores of the fungus are carried in the air and land on healthy leaves over the summer months. The fungus then grows into the leaves and down into the leaf petiole or rachis, and progressively into twigs, branches, and the stem.

Philip Doyle, hurley maker, in his workshop. LEFT: A Teagasc poster warning of the threat of Ash Dieback disease.
Philip Doyle, hurley maker, in his workshop. LEFT: A Teagasc poster warning of the threat of Ash Dieback disease.

The first confirmed finding of ash dieback disease in Ireland was made in October 2012 in a forestry plantation in County Leitrim which had been planted in 2009 with trees imported from continental Europe.

Shortly thereafter all the recently planted ash trees on that site were destroyed under Departmental supervision.

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The ash trees on another 10 sites where trees from the same batch of imported plants were planted out (approximately 33,000 plants in total) were also destroyed.

In the Department of Agriculture’s latest survey on the disease have been confirmed in a further 62 forestry plantations. These results bring the current total of findings in forestry plantations to 384.

All the new forestry plantation findings to date in 2017 are in counties where there have previously been confirmed findings in forestry plantations and as so, the number of counties with forests affected by Ash Dieback Disease remains unchanged at 24.

However, notable increases in the frequency of findings in forestry plantations were recorded in Counties Tipperary, Kilkenny, Wexford, Kildare, Meath, Cavan, and Clare.

In March 2013 the Department, continuing its efforts to attempt to prevent the spread of the disease, introduced a Reconstitution Scheme (Chalara Ash Dieback) to remove infected ash and restore forest areas planted under the afforestation scheme which had suffered from or which were associated with plants affected by disease.

However, these findings of infected plantations continued to increase, as ash dieback disease was found over much of the country.

In April 2018 a Review of the National Response to ash dieback disease was announced. This was because it has become increasingly evident from continued findings supported by the latest scientific advice that eradication of ash dieback disease is no longer feasible.

“Given this position, the Department has taken the view that its policy response must also change to one of living with the disease,” Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said recently.

The Minister said the review of the Reconstitution Scheme is nearing completion and the results of that review and the consequent approach in terms of management of the disease going forward will be available in the near future.

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