Can you recognise Ash Die-back?

Judith Allinson, of Settle, Northern England writes:

“Oh the Oak and the Ash and the bonny Ivy tree…

Around Settle where I live, Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is our the main big wild tree. Outside of the town a quarter of the big trees are ash. (The rest are the non-native sycamore). Nearly all the trees now, even big ones have many dead twigs, showing signs of die back. Soon nearly all the ash trees will be dead.

Tree with Ash dieback beside Plantsife’s Winskill Stones Nature Reserve. See it now has some bare twigs. Many trees in the distance are Ash too.

Most people round here have heard of Ash Dieback but they cannot recognise it or see it in front of their noses.

Maybe it is the same for climate change?

Here are photographs I have taken of Ash trees dying in England and Scotland. .. to celebrate the trees whilst they are still here, even if they are dying.

This post is to tell you a little about nature – Nature is fascinating. Then we can go out with open eyes, see if there are ash trees near us and if they have die-back.

The saplings in the area showed Ash dieback first. This one is at Malham Tarn. See there are young ash leaves growing (bottom right hand corner) but elsewhere it has lost all its leaves. There is a pink mark on the main trunk and the twig on the left has turned pink brown.

How to recognise an ash tree:

The leaves are made of about five pairs of leaflets, with one leaflet at the end. The winter twigs have opposite black buds. Mature trees have branches which hang down but then turn up at the ends.

There is not much we can do to prevent spread of Ash die-back now. It is due to a fungus type organism, not due to change in climate. It most likely came in on saplings grown on the continent, sold in garden centres etc and planted here just before 2012. The fungal spores can travel in the wind or on people’s feet.

The Fungus causing it called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. The fruiting bodies occur on the stalks of the old ash leaves. I have a picture of another species of Hymenoscyphus here, the little goblet top left on the side of a pine cone – you can see from the size of the moss leaves on the right how tiny it is.

What should we do?

We can make records of lichens that grow on its bark for the sake of scientific posterity; We can fund research into looking into finding some ash trees that might be resistant.

We can look for new species of tree to replace it.

But Ash is a very special tree in that it comes into leaf very late – thus wildflowers – bluebells, primroses,wood sanicle, woodruff etc – grow well underneath it in spring. (Much better than under sycamore or beech)

(What of other other species? Oak struggles to grow on limestone; Sycamores are not native – they were introduced maybe 300 years ago; Most, but not all elms disappeared 30 years ago with Dutch elm disease. Beech trees are not native to the north of England)

I enjoy showing people what Ash die-back looks like.

This is a pollarded ash tree near Stonethwaite in the Lake District. The big branches were cut a while back to maintain the tree in the traditional way for this part of the Lake District, then new straight branches grew. It is these young branches that have now lost their leaves due to die-back
This is an ornamental Weeping Ash in Settle’s “Ashfield” carpark. The many bare twigs are dead – evidence of Ash die-back
Ash tree at Ardtornish, Morvern, Scotland with Ash dieback – not sure why the hoops had been put on the tree though. Any suggestions?

To do:

  1. Learn to recognise Ash and appreciate any trees remaining near you.
  2. If you live near Settle, and have young family, bring them to come to Settle Churches together Three day “Eco-Explorers” event at Lower Winskill Farm – where some activities will involve visiting and finding out about trees. 29-31 July
  3. Be sympathetic with people whose dearly loved trees are dying.
  4. Contribute money to organisations such as the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust who now face huge bills to fell Ash trees adjacent to public footpaths. The dead branches are likely to break and pose a safety hazard.
  5. Act to make our government act on the climate and wildlife emergency which is a much much bigger than Ash die-back


One comment on “Can you recognise Ash Die-back?
  1. poppy says:

    Thanks for this really useful article, the photo of Winskill brings back fond memories. But more importantly those photos are very helpful in showing what ash die-back actually looks like.

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