Ash dieback and broadleaf trees
Sir, – The summer of 2019 marks for me, as a forester, the first time the stark reality the effects of ash dieback became apparent. Driving from west Clare to the Lough Derg area, I saw that most ash trees have now been affected by the disease as evidenced by dying branches, crowns and foliage.
Ash is the most common of our large hedgerow trees, and older readers will appreciate the change wrought upon the Irish landscape in the 1970s as Dutch elm disease swept away the majestic elms, several varieties of which grew all over this island. The Forest Service has concluded that eradication of the disease is not feasible, and mortality rates of between 70per cent and 85 per cent are forecast, with some researchers reporting that just 2 per cent of trees are naturally resistant. Faced with this annihilation of ash, the time is overdue to actually begin repopulating Irish hedgerows with other broadleaves and some conifers. Estimates suggest that Ireland has 300,000km of hedgerows. Many are composed of earthen banks, which are ideal for tree growing.
I suggest that a new grant-aid package be introduced by the Forest Service, with the technical advice of the forestry division of Teagasc. The aim is to plant saplings at five-metre spacing, with a tree guard and stake. At 150 to 200 trees per km of hedgerow, this would result in the repopulating of our hedgerows with millions of trees. We can replenish our native stock with oak, cherry, scots pine, holly and willow and enhance it with sycamore, walnut, lime, hornbeam, sequoiadendron, pine, maple and silver fir and eucalyptus.
The benefits from the points of view of biodiversity, carbon sequestration, amenity and future timber production are indisputable. Other readers have pointed out the potential of our hedgerows for tree growing. A drive through England shows what we can achieve.
With a shattered national planting programme, and confidence in forestry among forest owners having evaporated, the Forest Service could begin to rehabilitate its reputation by following through with a simple and practical broadleaf reforestation program me starting with the hedgerows. – Yours, etc,