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 www.livingashproject.org.uk