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Ash tree with ash dieback
Ash trees suffering from ash dieback. Reproduced with permission of the Forestry Commission. ©Crown copyright

A deadly and incurable disease which kills ash trees is sadly starting to take its toll in Cumbernauld’s woodlands.

Ash dieback is a fungal disease that was accidentally introduced to the UK in the early 2000s, and has since spread from the south east of England to almost all parts of the country. It originally came from Asia, where the different kinds of ash found there have evolved some immunity to the infection. Our own ash trees don’t have that protection yet, and it’s predicted that eventually around 80% of the UK’s ash trees are likely to die from it.

It’s harder to spot the problem in the winter months, but if you look in summer you will see the tell-tale signs. The leaves start to turn black and shrivel from the ends of the branches, gradually spreading over a number of years until the whole tree is almost bare. The fungus spreads its spores on the wind, and they can travel many miles.

Ash leaves showing ash dieback
Ash leaves showing the effects of ash dieback. Reproduced with permission from the Forestry Commission. ©Crown copyright

But there is evidence that some trees are more resistant to the fungus, and manage to survive the infection. So it’s important to let the disease run its course so that we can see which ones have developed some immunity. The seeds from these trees will be our best hope of ash trees returning to our landscapes in the future. And the dead and dying trees still provide an important habitat for wildlife. Some trees next to access routes will need to be removed if they pose a danger to people. Land managers are keeping a close eye on these to make sure our woodlands are safe for everyone.

This disease is yet one more threat to our native wildlife, another example of the Nature Emergency that means one in nine of Scotland’s species may be in danger of extinction unless we take action. The work that Cumbernauld Living Landscape does aims to help reverse this threat. And although there is little anyone can do to stop ash dieback now, there are a couple of things we can all do to help stop any future diseases from decimating our precious native trees in this way:

Better biosecurity measures are needed to prevent new plant diseases from being brought in from abroad – you can help by buying only UK grown plants.

A citizen science project called Observatree has been set up to help spot new diseases and infections. If you’d like to find out more check out their website at https://www.observatree.org.uk/


Sue Walker