Living Ash Project – securing the future for ash trees in Britain

posted on November 13, 2013
Living Ash Project

Living Ash Project

Today sees the launch of the Living Ash Project – a Defra-funded consortium of Earth Trust, Future Trees Trust, Sylva Foundation and Forest Research – aiming to identify ash trees with good tolerance to Chalara ash die-back, to sample these trees for further breeding work, and to make this material quickly available to industry.

There are an estimated 120 million ash trees in Britain’s woodlands and hedgerows. Evidence from Denmark, where Chalara ash die-back is more prevalent, indicates that approximately 1% of trees show good resistance to the disease.

While natural selection in some woodlands could enable resistant regeneration, the identification of resistant trees is needed as the basis for a genetically diverse and resilient population for future productive woodland planting.  Quickly identifying resistant trees and using them in a breeding programme will enable us to rapidly produce resilient trees.

The Living Ash Project aims to secure ash trees for the future that show resistance to Chalara ash die-back. It is important that a good proportion of trees that make it through a screening programme will be suitable for timber production to ensure a continued supply of this valuable product for the future. The project partners have been working on breeding ash for improved timber characteristics for over twenty years and in this time have assembled a substantial collection of ash trees from across ash’s native range which has great genetic diversity.

Sylva’s CEO Dr Gabriel Hemery said:

“Sylva’s main role in the project will be to work with members of the public, including woodland owners, who we want to report the presence of healthy trees.” He continued, “We will be announcing details soon about a national ash tree survey, which we hope people across Britain will get involved in: after-all, the future of our ash rests in all our hands.”

The Living Ash Project incorporates work programmes to:-

i)                   identify individual trees that show good tolerance of Chalara ash die-back

ii)                  screen these individuals using genetic markers developed by other Defra funded research

iii)                secure material from these trees in archives for further breeding purposes

iv)                develop techniques for rapid production of tolerant trees for deployment to the forestry sector


Project leader Dr Jo Clark from Earth Trust said:

“This is a great example of charities and government agencies such as Forest Research working together to address what is probably the biggest issue facing our woodlands today. Earth Trust, Sylva Foundation and Future Trees Trust together have dozens of partners and supporters across the forestry sector, all of whom will be getting involved in the awareness, screening and identification work.”

Defra’s Chief Plant Health Officer Martin Ward said:

““We know we can’t eradicate Chalara but the Living Ash project offers  a real solution in dealing with the disease.  Britain’s woodlands are constantly evolving but projects like this one will ensure that ash trees have a place in the woodlands of the future.”

In total, including in-kind contributions from the many partners, the project will cost approximately £1.2M and will take six years to complete.

Information can be found on the project website 

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Ash dieback discovered in Dorset

posted on August 22, 2013
close up of Chalara fraxinea lesion on young ash coppice stem

close up of Chalara fraxinea lesion on young ash coppice stem

In the week that AshTag relaunched to enable citizens to report both healthy and diseased ash trees Chalara fraxinea or ash dieback, was discovered in a thirteenth county in England. The latest county, Dorset, joins Cambridgeshire, Devon, East Sussex, Essex, Kent, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Northumberland, Suffolk, Surrey, West Sussex and Yorkshire.

According to Defra the disease has now been confirmed in 557 sites including 198 locations in the wider environment. Chalara was discovered in England’s woodland last Autumn as a result of the intensive survey carried out of sites across the UK where ash trees are known to be present. It is also found in sites across Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, although most of these currently are on sites planted (unknowingly) with diseased trees in recent years.

On a recent Good Woods visit to a woodland in south east England, a new case was discovered by one of our advisors. It had previously gone unnoticed by the owner, and only came to light during the visit as a management advice was being drawn up.

Further information

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Adopt an Ash and help secure a future for ash trees in Britain

posted on November 21, 2012
Adopt an Ash on

Adopt an Ash on

The outbreak of ash dieback caused by Chalara fraxinea is a serious threat to the future survival of ash in Britain. We want volunteers to Adopt an Ash in readiness for a major survey that we will launch in late Spring 2013. This is a new TreeWatch survey that is being developed with our partners.

As one of Britain’s most common trees, the loss of up to 90% of ash trees across of our countryside and our streets, is expected to have a massive and long-lasting impact on the landscape and woodland ecology.

You can help find ‘resistant’ ash trees across the country and track the development of the disease. Your data will be shared with a consortium of forestry and horticultural experts. By adopting your ash tree now you will be ready to take part in a robust scientific survey to be launched Early Spring, by which time the disease will be easy to spot.

We recognise that there are other volunteer projects in existence, such as Ashtag, but we believe that we are well-placed to collect and share data with partners through our tried and tested TreeWatch initiative with the following unique and important objectives:

  • the main objective will be to try and identify ‘resistant’ trees that could be used in a breeding programme to secure a future for ash in Britain;
  • the Adopt an Ash tree method supports a relationship with the volunteer and allows repeat assessments to be undertaken;
  • by asking volunteers to identify and report both the presence and absence of Chalara fraxinea, we will be able to track the progress of the disease on individual trees and across the country over coming years.

For now we are asking volunteers to select trees that they will be able survey next year, and to ‘adopt’ them in the usual way at

By late Spring 2013 the disease will be easier to identify in our ash trees and we will open our survey in time to allow volunteers to report their findings. We will share tree data (note not personal data) with a consortium of leading forestry and horticultural experts.

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Chalara fraxinea – advice for woodland owners

posted on November 8, 2012

The outbreak of Chalara fraxinea in the British countryside is very major story that cannot have escaped anyone’s notice. Infected sites currently total 115, distributed from SE England, East Anglia and the Midlands, to Scotland, to Wales.

Through the myForest Service, Sylva supports currently some 700 woodland owners who manage about 15,000 hectares of woodlands across Britain. We encourage all woodland owners to keep abreast of a very fluid situation in terms of current status of the outbreak and advice from Government and scientists and how we should all respond. The best place to keep informed is via the Forestry Commission webpage: Meanwhile, Sylva offers the following advice to woodland owners:

  1. Inspect ash trees in your woodland without delay. Before the winter winds remove all leaves, those infected by Chalara can be quite obvious in that they persist after those that drop as usual in the Autumn (see image). On young trees, coppice regrowth or other regeneration the lesions can be quite easy to spot. On older wood they are less clear. Dieback in the canopy may be possible to spot during the dormant season but it is easy to miss.
  2. If you believe that you have Chalara fraxinea in your woodland contact the Forestry Commission without delay.  The Forestry Commission are treating C. fraxinea as a ‘quarantine’ plant pathogen, which means that they may use emergency powers to contain or eradicate it when it is found. This is being done in the form of Statutory Plant Health Notices which they serve on affected owners requiring them to remove and destroy affected plants by burning or deep burial on site. This situation may change in time.
  3. Where possible implement rigorous biosecurity measures. Follow the advice of the Forestry Commission’s Biosecurity Measures.
  4. In terms of minimising the impact of the pathogen on ash trees within an infected woodland, current thinking is that the removal and burning of ash leaf litter may reduce the prevalence of the pathogen next year. This may be a practical action in high value sites, such as important biodiversity areas, parklands, garden trees or perhaps notable ancient trees. In larger ash stands clearly this may not be practicable.
  5. Felling of diseased trees. Advice is not yet clear on this issue. Note that finding resistant trees in the ‘wild’ will be very important in creating the foundation for a new population of trees resistant to the pathogen. Felling all ash trees in infected woodlands therefore, cannot be recommended.
  6. Before transporting ash wood, check the Forestry Commission webpage for the latest advice.

Over the coming weeks the Government’s taskforce will be bringing together experts to build up a picture of the current status and the appropriate measures that we should be taking to try and reduce the impact of this devastating pathogen. Our Chief Executive, Dr Gabriel Hemery, is taking an active role in the taskforce and we will be providing up-to-date information here when available.

Photographs taken by Gabriel Hemery during the expert taskforce
visit to Wayland Wood in Norfolk earlier this week.

Further information

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One thousandth tree registered on TreeWatch

posted on October 17, 2012

The one thousandth tree has been registered on the TreeWatch website, reflecting increasing interest in our citizen science initiative.

It comes the same month as the devastating new disease on ash, Chalara fraxinea or ash dieback, finally attracted the national media attention it deserved, and the same year that sweet chestnut blight and the Asian longhorn beetle were reported in the UK. These diseases and pests are added to a growing number of existing health issues affecting our trees including acute oak decline in oak, Phytopthora ramorum in larch, the oak processionary moth and more besides.

The age of the citizen scientist is certainly of the moment, as a growing army of volunteers capable of sighting and reporting tree health issues, can be a very powerful weapon in our defense of trees especially when working alongside tree professionals and scientists. This is the role of the TreeWatch initiative. As our slogan for TreeWatch reads … people power for healthy trees!

Category: TreeWatch

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Ash dieback – Chalara fraxinea

posted on October 10, 2012

UPDATE: ash dieback was confirmed today to be present in two woodlands in the East of England. These are the first confirmed cases of the fungal pathogen outside tree nurseries. 25th October 2012.

A devastating new disease affecting ash trees is now present in Britain.

Chalara fraxinea webpage

Chalara fraxinea information on the Forestry Commission website

A fungus called Chalara fraxinea (C. fraxinea) causes leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees, and it can lead to tree death. It has devastated 90% of ash trees in Denmark, leading to concerns that the disease could have a similar impact on the British landscape as Dutch elm disease. It is likely that Defra will implement an import ban by November after calls from across the forestry sector.

Ash trees suffering from symptoms likely to be caused by C. fraxinea have  been found widely across Europe over the last 10 years. These have included forest trees, trees in urban areas such as parks and gardens, and also young trees in nurseries. Symptoms include the wilting of leaves and dieback. During the dormant winter period it can be hard to spot but black lessions on stems are tell-tale warning signs.

It was first reported in the UK in February 2012 after it was found in a consignment of infected trees sent from a nursery in the Netherlands. Over the Summer new cases were soon reported first in central England and soon after the north and east. It has been found also in four recently planted sites in Scotland.

C. fraxinea is being treated as a quarantine pest under national emergency measures, and it is important that suspected cases of the disease are reported. Visit the Forestry Commission webpage to find out more.

Read more about our work to combat tree pests and diseases at

Further information:

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TreeWatch surveys 2012

posted on September 27, 2012

It’s not too late to take part in the 2012 TreeWatch surveys. Whether you are an existing volunteer or have just come across our exciting citizen science project, take part in one of our surveys.

Please take part and help us share crucial tree health data with our scientific partners.

Why not get a friend to take part too and help us reach our goal of 1000 trees adopted this year?



We are sorry that some users are experiencing difficulties with entering the data. We are aware that we need to make a number of improvements to make the progress of entering information more logical and with less clicks, and will be implementing these before next year’s survey season.  Meanwhile we hope that the following helps:

  1. Log in
  2. Click on surveys
  3. Choose the  [pear rust / horse chestnut / oak jewel beetle / powdery mildew] survey page
  4. Click on the ‘my trees’ tab
  5. Your tree(s) should appear on the right of the map. Click on it’s name.
  6. This will bring up below the information you need to update its status.
  7. When done, click ‘save’
Any feedback is always appreciated

TreeWatch team

Category: TreeWatch

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Rust Spotters Needed

posted on May 24, 2012
RHS logo

Visit the RHS website pear rust page

Sylva has teamed up with the UK’s leading gardening charity, the Royal Horticultural Society, to launch the 2012 pear rust survey under our TreeWatch initiative.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is working with the Sylva Foundation to run a survey in the TreeWatch initiative to map the incidences of European pear rust across the country. Over the last ten years the RHS Advisory Service has seen a steady increase in enquiries suggesting that the fungus is spreading and gardeners are becoming more concerned about its effects.

Both charities are encouraging gardeners to get involved with this survey which is being run between May and September. Anyone wanting to help or provide information can visit: or send samples to the RHS Advisory Service.

European pear rust is a disease caused by the fungus Gymnosporangium sabinae. Like many rusts, it needs two hosts to complete its life cycle. It causes striking orange spots on pear leaves during summer. Junipers are the second host and infected plants produce orange, jelly-like, horn-like outgrowths in spring which produce spores.

“We are keen for gardeners to get involved with this survey because we need to find out why the fungus is increasing in frequency,” says John David, RHS Acting Head of Science. “Having better records will help us understand the biology behind this fungus and therefore in turn hopefully how to control it.”

Chief Executive of Sylva, Dr Gabriel Hemery, says “We are delighted to be working with the RHS again this year to support this important survey. With an increasing number of pests and pathogens impacting the health of our trees, the power of the citizen scientist is coming to the fore. Our collaboration during 2011 resulted in some important data that has now been shared with the National Biodiversity Network: the first time that disease data has been shared with this important national resource.”

Download the Press Release

Category: TreeWatch
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Two new TreeWatch surveys on oak trees

posted on May 13, 2012

This week we have launched two new surveys at TreeWatch. Both relate to the health of our oak trees and we asking members of the public for their help. Both surveys have been developed jointly with scientists from Forest Research and we will be sharing the scientific data we collect them to help in their studies. Both surveys, the oak jewel beetle and powdery mildew, have been linked to the very serious problem affecting our oak trees:- Acute Oak Decline.

Oak jewel beetle survey on TreeWatch

Oak jewel beetle survey on TreeWatch

The oak jewel beetle Agrilus biguttatus, lays its eggs in crevices on the bark of native oak trees. The larvae that hatch then tunnel through the bark to feed on the tree tissues underneath the bark. If large numbers of this insect infest a tree it may lead to tree death. When the larvae pupate, the emerging young adult beetles make very characteristic ‘D’-shaped exit holes.

Scientists at Forest Research want to know more about the distribution of this beetle, so it is just as important that your report an absence as much as a presence!


Oak powdery mildew survey on TreeWatch

Oak powdery mildew survey on TreeWatch

The second new survey is on Oak powdery mildewsurvey. Powdery mildew of oak is caused by the fungus Erysiphe alphitoides (also known as Microsphaera alphitoides) and it is a common foliar pathogen of oak trees across Europe. First found in England in 1908, it is thought to have been a factor in an oak dieback episode in the 1920s. Scientists today believe that it may one of the factors that is contributing to the decline of our oak trees. The mildew attacks young leaves and soft shoots of oaks, covering them with a felty-white mycelium (fine white threads). It causes eventually the leaves to shrivel and dry out or turn brown.

If you can help us by monitoring the health of oak trees near you, please get involved.  It is easy and fun.  To find out more and to take part visit

Category: TreeWatch

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Asian Longhorn beetle outbreak in Kent

posted on April 20, 2012
Asian longhorn leaflet

Asian longhorn beetle leaflet

Forest Research and the Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera) are working to eradicate a breeding population of Asian longhorn beetle found in the Paddock Wood area of Maidstone in Kent.

The Asian longhorn beetle, native to China, poses a serious threat to a wide range of broadleaved trees. It has caused extensive damage to trees in the USA and Italy since being accidentally introduced there in recent years.

The existence of this population was confirmed first by Forest Research scientists in March.Today it was confirmed the larvae (grubs) of Asian longhorn beetle were found on 22 trees in the area and five more are considered highly likely to be infested. The infestation zone (i.e. the area within a 100m radius of each infested tree) currently covers about 8 hectares (20 acres or 80,000m2).

Asian longhorn beetles can infest a wide range of broadleaved trees and shrubs. The larvae feed undetected on the inside of the host tree or shrub, which could kill it or leave it weakened and susceptible to further pest and disease damage. Although the larvae are unlikely to emerge as adult beetles before the end of June in the UK, it is important that we remove all infested and potentially infested trees as early as possible before then. They would be a serious threat to UK woodland if they became established.

Find out more on the Forestry Commission’s webpage on the Asian Longhorn beetle. Please note that Fera must be notified of sightings of beetles or other evidence of infestation by ALB, such as exit holes in the trunk of host plants. There is a legal obligation to report the beetle or suspicious signs included in the Plant Health (England) Order 2005 and the Plant Health (Forestry) Order 2005.

Read more about our work to combat tree pests and diseases at

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