The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales is very concerned about the spread of ash dieback and its impact on the natural environment.
Confirmation that the disease has been discovered in Wales is clearly a cause of concern, if not a great surprise, given what we know about the disease’s spread in mainland Europe and the ecology of the fungus that causes it.
Ash Tree by L Maiden
Ash is a very important component of Wales’s natural environment and we ourselves have many nature reserves where ash plays an important ecological role, for example:
1. Kilvrough Woodlands on Gower- this important woodland nature reserve is ancient ash woodland and beech plantation, but also forms part of the Gower Ashwoods Special Area of Conservation (the ash woodland has European protection for its ecological significance).
2. Ash trees are important in supporting a large number of important species, for example on our West Williamston nature reserve in Pembrokeshire.This reserve holds the largest population of the rare brown hairstreak butterfly within west Wales. We know that the adult butterflies tend to assemble around ash trees shortly after they’ve emerged and it’s here that breeding takes place. There are normally only a few ‘master’ trees involved but their loss would be significant. The butterflies spend most of their time in the tree canopies and feed primarily on honeydew secreted by aphids.
The loss of a large proportion of our ash would have severe consequences for both the landscape and for our wildlife, much as Dutch Elm Disease did in the last century.
However, we still have a lot to learn about how this disease will progress in Britain, including any natural resistance that may occur. The structure of our landscape, and the climate, are different to mainland Europe.
We would encourage the relevant authorities to take a precautionary approach to disease management and to move swiftly to offer guidance to all stakeholders, but to do so in an informed and proportionate manner, with decisions based on science (of which a great deal is available from Europe) and ensuring that the potential resilience of ash to recover from this disease is not undermined.
A guide to spotting ash die back is available