TREE experts have been busy inspecting woodland across the Dales for signs of devastating Ash dieback.
Members from the Forestry Commission and the Peak District National Park Authority teamed up to inspect Dales woodland – which would be changed dramatically if the disease took hold.
Naturalists throughout the UK had until noon on Tuesday, November 6, to inspect Ash trees in advance of yesterday’s government summit.
The meeting, which was chaired by Environment Secretary Owen Patterson, set out to assess the extent of the disease and what action could be taken to tackle it.
Jane Chapman, head of environment and economy for the Peak District National Park, said: “Iconic locations like Lathkill Dale and Dovedale are predominantly composed of Ash trees and would be changed irreversibly if Ash dieback strikes.”
In the Peak District there is approximately 950 hectares of Ash Woodland – which provides vital habitat for many animals and plant species.
While there have been no confirmed cases of dieback in the Dales yet, residents in Sheldon raised the alarm after www.ashtag.org reported an ‘unconfirmed report’ of Chalara in Great Shacklow Wood, near the village.
In advance of the summit – which was held hours after the Mercury deadline – Jane said that while there had been no “confirmed cases” of dieback in the Dales, experts main priority has been to gather information quickly to submit to Defra – Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – to analyse.
Jane said: “Until the summit reveals its findings, it is not possible to give a definite answer about whether Ash dieback is in the Dales.
“Whatever the outcome, the important thing is that we quickly act on the advice given and do whatever we can to prevent the spread of dieback.”
At the time of publication there had been 82 confirmed cases of Ash dieback, with woodlands in Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and Essex among the worse affected.
The first confirmed case in the UK was recorded at a nursery in Buckinghamshire in March 2012.
A ban on Ash imports and the movement of trees from infected areas was enforced on October 29.
Yesterday’s summit will now consider the findings of a nationwide survey carried out by 500 Forestry Commission staff.
The data collected from 2,500 10km x 10km areas aims to identify how far the disease has spread, and will form the basis of discussions on what steps need to be taken to deal with the dieback outbreak.
Woodland Trust policy director Helen Allison, who attended the summit, said: “Unfortunately, it is often the case that until a tragedy such as ash dieback becomes a reality, it is very difficult to impress upon people the importance of protecting the UK’s trees and the need to enforce stricter controls to prevent new pests and diseases entering the country.
“The Woodland Trust is pleased that Defra has been listening to its call for an emergency summit on ash dieback, but we want to stress that this situation only serves to highlight the consequences of leaving decisions affecting the security of our woodland to the 11th hour.”
Britain has an Ash population of approximately 80 million and the trees provide food and shelter to a wide range of wildlife – especially birds and insects.
If the population were to be wiped out, other tree species could be planted to replace them. However, the species’ loosely-branched structure means that plenty of light reaches the woodland floor, allowing a variety of plants to grow beneath them.
For Dales updates check www.matlockmercury.co