Woodland industries’ fears over Chalara ash tree disease
Businesses whose livelihood depend on stocks of ash trees have urged the government to do more to address the commercial impact of the deadly tree infection which has taken root in East Anglia.
The discovery of Chalara dieback of ash in established woodland in Norfolk last week prompted a national crisis-management effort to establish the extent of the outbreak and find ways to contain it.
But while environmental agencies discuss ways to tackle the ecological crisis, commercial users of ash wood said a clearer strategy was needed to minimise the infection’s impact on industry.
Anglian Firewood operates a licensed woodland at North Runcton near King’s Lynn, where it produces firewood – 80pc of which is from ash trees.
Co-owner April Gingell said although the firm’s trees were currently free from infection, it was still a “very worrying situation”.
“The government does not seem to be taking the firewood industry into account at all,” she said. “The main concern we have is the policy of not closing woodlands to the public, even if they are infected. They accept that this disease is highly contagious and they don’t really know how it is spread, but the only advice they give people is to not move any plant materials and to wash their boots, which of course people will not do.
“The advice seems contradictory. From a commercial point of view, that woodland is shut down as soon as an infection is found, but the public can still walk around it.”
“We are talking about a disease which has already wiped out 90pc of Denmark’s ash trees and now it looks as if it could go through our country like wildfire.”
Steve Collin is senior reserves officer for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, whose woodlands at Ashwellthorpe and Watton were among the country’s first confirmed cases of the disease in the wild. He said commercial use of ash was an important part of the management of public woodlands.
“The economic fall-out from this is going to be colossal, and how woodland is managed is going to have to change to allow for this,” he said. “Any woodland products help with the management.
“In a coppiced woodland like Ashwellthorpe we are talking about firewood and woodland products like stakes and binders for hedge-layers. We also sell woodchip and woodland mulch. Some of those things can be made from other woods like hazel, but the ban has stopped us moving all materials out of infected woodlands.
“One of the things that has kept these sites managed is because they have been useful. In the past, nobody managed them simply because they liked the wildlife. They did it because they needed the materials.”
David Harwood, who runs the Sandy Lane Nursery, near Diss, said he was considering whether to destroy his stock of healthy ash trees in the face of the fungal disease’s onslaught.
He said: “The trees do not have the disease, but if you can’t move them on, sell them, then there is no alternative. You can’t just keep them because they get too big, so it’s a case of cutting your losses. It is going to mean a big loss for nurseries.”
“They (the government) have made a bit of a codge-up of it, as it seems this thing has been creeping slowly forward for some time.”
The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) met with Defra on Tuesday to highlight industry concerns about the commercial ramifications for growers.
The group said the ban on the import and movement of ash has effectively made this year’s ash crop redundant, and UK growers face potentially crippling financial losses.
HTA director general Carol Paris said: “We realise that the government’s historical stance is not to provide compensation to plant growers, but we believe the current situation represents exceptional circumstances especially since the industry recommended an import ban three years ago”.