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Rising from the ashes

posted on February 19, 2018

Guest blog by Sylva Scholar, Louise Hill

We congratulate Louise Hill on successfully defending her DPhil at the University of Oxford. Louise is the third (and sadly final) Oxford-Sylva scholar. Over the last four years she has been researching the impacts of ash dieback. Here Louise describes in her own words what she has achieved, and what our support has meant to her personally.  Well done Louise!

It’s been a long road to get here, but four and a half years after starting I have finally finished my DPhil. As the Sylva Scholar, I have been extremely privileged to complete my project at the University of Oxford, with opportunities to meet top scientists, speak at international conferences, and produce the best research that I am capable of.

Louise Hill in Wytham Woods. Photo John Cairns

Louise Hill, Sylva scholar, in Wytham Woods. Photo John Cairns

My research project looked at various different aspects of the ash dieback outbreak in Britain. This disease is one of the most important contemporary challenges to the health of our woods and trees. An invasive fungal pathogen (Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus) [Ed. formerly known as Chalara fraxinea], it threatens the future of common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) as a dominant tree in Britain. The impacts of this loss will be widespread: over the coming decades we are likely to see significant impacts on the health of woodland and non-woodland ecosystems, on associated biodiversity, and on human health and wellbeing as the benefits of ash trees to society are lost.

My project was broad and investigated impacts in many of these areas.

  • I carried out experimental work to clarify the impacts of ash loss on woodland ground flora and invertebrate communities.
  • I modelled the distributions of trees and their associated traits and functions (with a paper published in Ecology and Evolution: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ece3.2661/full). This allowed me to investigate the areas and ecosystem types most vulnerable ash loss, and to develop management guidance to help mitigate this loss (paper in review).
  • In my final year, I investigated the economic impacts, an ambitious project which I am now developing further with collaborators at the Woodland Trust and Fera, and which we hope will produce a high-impact publication with political significance.
Hill et al Ecology&Evolution

Hill et al. (2007) Ecology&Evolution

It’s been a lot of hard work, but I have come away with something I feel really proud of: a project that I could make fully my own, that I believe has contributed to both the scientific understanding of the disease and to practical measures to reduce its harm.

None of this would have been possible without support and input from the Sylva Foundation: the scholarship gave me a fantastic opportunity, and I have tried my best to make the most of it. This experience culminated a couple of weeks ago in an invitation to attend a Plant Health and Biosecurity conference at Highgrove, contributing directly to ideas for future policy.

I hope in the future I can carry on working on research in tree diseases in the future, as this project has given me a real drive to continue in this important area.

Louise Hill

[Note from Ed: Louise Hill’s thesis will soon be available online. We will publish a link as soon as possible.]


More about the Sylva Scholarship

Sadly Louise is our third and final Oxford-Sylva Graduate Scholar, as we have been unsuccessful in fundraising sufficiently to appoint a new student.

Read more stories from our Sylva Scholars


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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 TreeWatch.com

Adopt an Ash on TreeWatch.com

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 www.TreeWatch.com/chalara.

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: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara. 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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Chalara dieback of ash (Chalara fraxinea)

posted on October 28, 2012

Chalara dieback of ash is a serious disease of ash trees caused by a fungus called Chalara fraxinea (C. fraxinea).  The disease causes leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees, and it can lead to tree death.

There has been significant media coverage about the arrival of this fungal pathogen in the UK over the last week and with good reason. It is potentially very destructive to our native Ash, as can be seen by looking at our European neighbours e.g. Denmark and Germany.

For further information please follow the link to the Forestry Commission website below. We will aim to update this blog post with relevant information for woodland owners and forest managers as it becomes available.

Forestry Commission – Chalara dieback of ash

 


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