Saving the ash
The devastation caused by Dutch elm disease in the 1970s and 1980s may be repeated if effective measures are not taken to counter a virulent threat to our ash tree population. There are some hopeful signs. A common approach to banning the importation of all ash seeds, plants and wood with bark attached has been agreed with the Northern Ireland authorities and certificates will be required to show material comes from disease-free areas.
That initiative mimics the approach taken in relation to foot-and-mouth disease some years ago. But it must be followed up with aggressive measures designed to contain and to eradicate vectors of the lethal fungal disease, given the rate of spread in Britain.
Minister of State with responsibility for forestry Shane McEntee signed the necessary protocols this week following evidence that the disease is present in the country. It was imported into this State in a consignment of young trees from the Netherlands. Since then, it has been identified in four counties, all linked to imported material. The young plants and adjacent trees have been destroyed. A similar, strict regime is being followed in Northern Ireland.
The disease has infected or killed some 90 per cent of the ash trees in Denmark. It was recognised in Britain on imported plants. Since then, evidence has emerged that the disease has spread naturally, by way of wind or birds, along the East coast. Some 83 sites have been identified in England and seven in Scotland. Experts say it may not be possible to contain it. Here in Ireland, we still have that opportunity.
Ash trees account for 3 per cent of Irish forests. But they make up about 30 per cent of the entire tree population and are found mainly in hedgerows and on well-drained soil.
Their loss would be catastrophic, particularly in visual, landscape and environmental terms; not forgetting their use in the manufacture of hurleys. Cost considerations contributed to the loss of our mature elm trees. That cannot be allowed to happen in relation to the ubiquitous ash.