Countryfile Magazine - - Pocklington Canal - JOHN CRAVEN Watch John on Coun­try­file on Sun­day evenings on BBC One.

“The UK has around three bil­lion trees that to­gether are worth £175 bil­lion”

This is not a good time to be a tree. For many thou­sands across the UK this could be their last au­tumn, as they suc­cumb to killer dis­eases and pests im­ported ei­ther by big busi­ness or the wind. Never be­fore have wood­lands and forests, leafy lanes and hedgerows been un­der such se­ri­ous threat.

The lat­est vic­tim is our na­tive ash, stricken by the dieback dis­ease Hy­menoscy­phus frax­ineus, which has swept across Europe. “Now it’s here and pre­dicted to wipe out most of our ash trees be­cause they have no de­fence,” says Nick Atkin­son, se­nior con­ser­va­tion ad­viser to the Wood­land Trust. “Re­search is be­ing car­ried out in the hope of find­ing re­sis­tant trees but, to make mat­ters worse, wait­ing round the corner is a nasty lit­tle bee­tle called the emer­ald ash borer.

“It’s cur­rently on the move across Rus­sia, and if it reaches the UK it could fin­ish off the ash. That would be dis­as­trous for our wood­lands and for a whole ecosys­tem of in­sects and birds that de­pends on ash trees.”


The UK has around three bil­lion trees that to­gether are worth £175 bil­lion. In re­cent decades, the roll call of species un­der at­tack from ex­otic dis­eases has length­ened: horse ch­est­nut canker, mas­saria in plane trees, blight in conifers and sweet chest­nuts, a fun­gus-like pathogen in larch, Dutch elm dis­ease (which, 50 years af­ter it first wreaked havoc, is still a men­ace and has now reached north­ern Scot­land) and acute oak de­cline.

In the face of this wood­land cri­sis the Gov­ern­ment says it is now tak­ing firmer ac­tion. Its re­cently launched Tree Health Re­silience Strat­egy en­cour­ages landown­ers, char­i­ties, the pub­lic and White­hall to work to­gether to tackle pests and dis­eases, and en­force new quar­an­tine mea­sures. The strat­egy is part of DE­FRA’s 25-year En­vi­ron­ment Plan, which also in­cludes a sep­a­rate cam­paign, backed by Prince Charles, to pro­tect the na­tion’s 121 mil­lion oak trees from fur­ther dam­age.

Biose­cu­rity is the key weapon in the bat­tle: stop­ping the threats get­ting here and tak­ing im­me­di­ate ac­tion if they do. This sum­mer, hol­i­day­mak­ers were ad­vised not to bring plants back from abroad and firms im­port­ing plants and wood are be­ing urged to buy from safe sources. The Wood­land Trust is set­ting an ex­am­ple: it plants three mil­lion trees a year, all from seeds pro­duced in the UK.


Michael Gove, the en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary, says: “In 10 years’ time I want to be able to say our oaks are thriv­ing, that pests are be­ing kept at bay and that our wood­lands and forests are flour­ish­ing. We must seize ev­ery op­por­tu­nity of­fered by Brexit to strengthen our biose­cu­rity.” Sir Harry Studholme, chair of the Forestry Com­mis­sion, called the strat­egy “a crit­i­cal mile­stone”.

And is there any­thing we can do to help safe­guard the trees we so admire? The ad­vice from the Forestry Com­mis­sion is to make sure our boots are clean when we en­ter wood­land, and brush off mud and plant de­bris from boots, clothes, bikes, bug­gies and pets be­fore we leave. Then give ev­ery­thing a good clean when we get home. Small mea­sures like these can make a big dif­fer­ence if gen­er­a­tions to come are also to en­joy those walks.

Ash trees, al­ready strug­gling to fight Hy­menoscy­phus frax­ineus, could soon be fac­ing the threat of emer­ald ash borer bee­tle

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