New Sylva Scholar starts research on ecosystem consequences of ash dieback

posted on October 16, 2013

Our second Sylva Scholar has started her research at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, funded partly by the Sylva Scholarship. Louise Hill, who was an undergraduate at Oxford before completing an MSc in Applied Ecology and Conservation  at the University of East Anglia, has returned to Oxford undertake a DPhil research project studying the Ecosystem consequences of ash dieback.

Louise Hill - Sylva Scholar

Louise Hill – Sylva Scholar

Louise said: “I am delighted to have this opportunity to work on one of the key conservation issues currently playing out in the UK and Europe. I hope that I will be able to make a valuable contribution to our understanding of this subject, and development, if possible, mitigation steps during the course of my DPhil.”

Louise has worked previously as an assistant reserve warden for the National Trust at Wicken Fen NNR in Cambridgeshire. She has also carried out a five month research project in Malaysian Borneo investigating the effects of rainforest logging on the parasite loads of Bornean birds.

Ash Dieback, caused by the fungal agent Chalara fraxinea, is an emerging lethal disease of ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) which is threatening ash survival in many parts of Europe. In Denmark, for instance, which saw its first observed case in 2002, up to 90% of the entire ash population has become infected. The disease was first found in Britain in February 2012 and current estimates suggest that subsequent spread may affect between 90% and 99% of all British ash trees.

The project aims to investigate:

  1. The current distribution of ash (Fraxinus excelsior) in the UK and its likely ecological roles.
  2. Changes in biotic and abiotic conditions within ash-dominated woodlands before, during and after infection with Chalara fraxinea.
  3. The ecosystem consequences of losing 90% to 99% of ash trees, particularly with regard to landscape connectivity. The high percentage of ash in hedgerow corridors between forest habitats may be among the most important ecological roles of ash in the UK.
  4. Synergistic effects on biodiversity of co-occurrence with other major tree diseases, including Oak Decline and Chestnut Bleeding Canker.


The Sylva Scholarship was launched in Autumn 2010 in partnership with the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford. The theme of the scholarship is healthy trees and productive forests. Sylva is keen to raise sufficient funds to secure the scholarship in perpituity – read more about our fundraising campaign.

Read the latest news on the scholarship from our blog

1 Comment

  1. What a brilliant subject to research. It must be the most deadly threat to native trees at present, and certainly in the county where I live (Northamptonshire), there is a high percentage of Ash. The disease will have disastrous consequences.

    Comment by Liz Ramsay — October 27, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

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