Following today's announcement that UK scientists have identified the country’s first ash tree that shows tolerance to ash dieback, raising the possibility of using selective breeding to develop strains of trees that are tolerant to the disease our Director of Conservation Austin Brady said:
“We welcome today’s important news and are ready to help Defra with the task of screening native ash trees across the UK to find resistant or tolerant trees. Early indications suggest that the variability in UK ash means we may have more natural resistance in our trees than those on the continent.
"The disease has already spread across much of the UK and is expected to kill many ash trees in woods and hedgerows across the countryside. The success of identifying these genetic markers is a crucial step in accelerating the work to develop ways of keeping this beautiful and important native tree in our landscapes for the future.
“This offers hope to all who value the countryside and our beloved native ash tree, and is a real credit to the expertise of our plant health scientists. What is now paramount is the implementation of a thorough recovery plan, using this new knowledge, to start replacing the thousands of trees we will still inevitably lose with a range of our well-loved native species, alongside new strains of ash identified by this ground-breaking screening process.
“We will need provision of further funding and support and must work to remove barriers which are deterring people from planting more trees, to ensure everyone has an opportunity to prolong the presence of ash in the countryside.
“It is early days and a lot more work is needed, but we are really pleased with this development and heartened that our original cautionary response not to rush ahead with large scale felling or removal of ash trees that might hold the key to resistance was heeded. Woodland owners should be encouraged to retain as much of the ash growing in their woods as possible, so we can identify and retain more of the naturally resistant trees and use processes of natural regeneration alongside breeding programmes to bulk up resistant planting stock.”