Dr Peter Thomas on Radio 4 discussing ash dieback disease
The worst case scenario is that 95% of our estimated 8 million ash trees will die.
On Wednesday March 23rd Dr Peter Thomas was interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme about the threat to ash trees from ash dieback and an invasive beetle called the emerald ash borer. This was followed by interviews on Five Live and 10 regional BBC radio stations. The story was also followed on the BBC website and in a number of newspapers and web services including the Guardian and the Telegraph.
The interest was generated following the publication on Wednesday of the largest ever survey of the ecology and biology of our native ash tree, written by Peter. The survey, published in the Journal of Ecology by the British Ecological Society is based on a review of more than a thousand publications summarising all that is currently known about this much-loved tree, including diseases and pests.
Ash dieback is a fungal disease that has been in Europe since 1992 and now covers more than 2 million square kilometres of forest. In countries such as Denmark, 60-90% of ash trees are infected and although death can take several decades, it is highly likely that most of these trees will die. The disease was first found in Britain in 2012 and has spread to over a thousand sites already. The worst case scenario is that 95% of our estimated 8 million ash trees will die. Some trees are showing resistance to the disease and there is hope that they can be used to repopulate our landscape. But waiting in the wings is the emerald ash borer, a small metallic-green beetle. After it was accidentally introduced into N. America, tens of millions of ash trees died. It has now been found in Moscow and is thought to be in Sweden. If it found its way to Britain then any trees surviving ash dieback would be a sitting target for the beetle and unlikely to survive. It will be virtually impossible to eradicate the disease from Britain so the future of the ash tree depends upon keeping the emerald ash borer from our shores.