Chalara dieback of Ash (Chalara fraxinea)

Wed Jun 12 10:01:17 UTC 2013

Caused by a fungus called Chalara fraxinea, the spread of this serious disease affecting the ash tree has resulted in various agencies requiring that any identification of its presence to be reported to the appropriate authorities as part of national emergency measures due to its quarantine pest status.

The main visual indicators that a tree has been infected would include leaf loss and crown die-back that is usually fatal for the tree. The Forestry Commission and Food and Environment Research Agency websites contain all of the information required by those wishing to be made fully aware of the issues involved in helping to manage the spread of this deadly disease.

The first recorded incidents of the then newly identified pathogen responsible for the development of Chalara dieback of ash were identified in Poland during 1992. A decade later, some imported trees from the Netherlands were identified as being infected following an inspection by a nursery in Buckinghamshire, England. The disease is now present at over 250 sites throughout the UK. As part of their course of study, many learners working towards the completion of the BTEC Level 3 National Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture will currently be considering the contents of Unit 9, 'Understand the Principles and Identify the Signs of Pests and Diseases of Trees'.

One of the issues likely to be included within the learners' considerations will be that of how Chlara dieback of ash can be identified, properly recorded and reported to the relevant agencies. Learners will also be expected to be aware of the methods that can be used to best manage any occurrence that might develop during their professional capacities in the future. In order to identify how learners are taught to identify the presence of Chlara dieback of ash and other tree diseases, I spoke to Liam Sainsbury, one of the tutorial team responsible for delivering the National Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture at the Myerscough College in Croxteth Park, Liverpool.

Liam explained that many of the learners will, in future, be expected to be able to correctly identify and properly record any incident of the Chalara dieback of ash as part of their everyday working responsibilities, following successful completion of their programme. "It will of course be necessary for future forestry managers and other related occupational roles to be aware of any research and up to date advice likely to affect the further spread of the pathogens responsible for increasing the spread of this and other diseases into the wider environment. This will include practical considerations that are required to minimise future spread of the pathogen and details of how this can be done."

Learners are also required to understand and explain why the movement of ash has been restricted, and are expected to participate in group discussions, reading up to date information and the production of written assignments that prove learner awareness of the issue and competence. It is also of course vitally important that any health and safety issue relating to the assessment of trees affected by Chalara dieback are given a high priority for learners as they carry out their Visual Tree Assessment checks. As with all tree assessments, priority must be given to anything that might pose a hazard to human health, and consideration is given to the structural integrity of the tree prior to any climbing activity occurring that might endanger life.

Referring once again to the Unit 9 Edexcel produced guidance notes, it is clear that the learners will be kept busy for the 60 guided learning hours that will be required to successfully complete the unit.

Following a conference organised by Clare Oliver of the Mersey Forest organisation at Myerscough College recently, some of the delegates explained their thoughts on how the impact of Chalara dieback of ash might be minimised in the future.

Tree disease specialist and Arboriculture Lecturer at Myerscough College, Duncan Slater, said: “For a meeting about a very dire disease that threatens a large number of our native trees, it had in fact many positive outcomes. There was healthy discussion and debate as to what actions were required to gain some control over the ash dieback problem, what research areas would be appropriate to pursue further, and what the government may do in terms of controlling imported plant stock and destroying infected ash trees.

"The meeting showed that the arboriculture industry is ready to step up to the plate and tackle the many issues that this epidemic will give rise to, and the many demands that the industry will need to meet. It was really inspiring to see a meeting of like-minded professionals and community leaders were agreeing and co-ordinating their efforts to be ready for this potentially devastating disease of our ash trees.”

Iain Taylor, the Chair of the Northwest Forestry Forum, headed up an expert panel at the Myerscough meeting. He said: "Ash dieback is an important issue and it was great to bring experts and practitioners' together today at Myerscough.

"We know from the overwhelming level of interest in this event that people are concerned for their trees and woodlands and want to know how they manage the ash in their area. We are now looking towards the release of the next government action plan, which is due to be issued on Thursday."

It is clear that those responsible for managing our wooded areas are very committed to ensuring that the spread of Chalara dieback of ash is kept to an absolute minimum. Young people who are now currently working towards achievement of their BTEC National Diploma Level 3 qualification  within the sector will also be fully prepared to carry on the fight initiated by current industry professionals. Let us all hope that they will be successful in reducing the impact of this deadly disease on today's and future generations.

Andy McLachlan
Standards Verifier, Pearson BTEC

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