No less a conservationist than the Prince of Wales is a supporter of Action Oak, a new £15 million appeal launched at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. The aim is to raise funds to investigate oak health and the Woodland Trust is firmly on board, helping partners at Kew, the National Trust, Woodland Heritage, the Forestry Commission and the Prince’s own Duchy of Cornwall to plan an assault on the mysterious syndrome known as Acute Oak Decline (AOD).
What is Acute Oak Decline?
Symptoms include weeping black gouges on stems and trunks, a tell-tale ‘stag’s head’ thinning of the crown – and too often, death. And though it is being seen all over southern England, no-one is quite sure whether AOD is a disease or brought on by a combination of environmental factors – climate change, historic droughts or pollution.
Government is also joining the battle. Lisa Smith, head of tree health policy at Defra, says: “Landowners were telling us stands of trees hundreds of years old were keeling over. This is our most iconic tree, and creating a fund researchers know exists will make things happen.”
Action Oak’s programme will research genetics and metabolism, disease and environmental stresses. It also hopes to spread best practice for oak husbandry and put in place a new nationwide monitoring scheme to track the age, health and distribution of our mighty oaks.