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Marc Liebrecht, arboriculturist and forestry manager at Carter Jonas, advises on how to manage trees infected with ash dieback.
Q. I own a mixed farm which has a few small areas of woodland affected by ash dieback. Are there any grants available to support the felling of affected trees, and what (if anything) should I be planting to replace them?
A. Thank you for your question. Sadly, you will not be alone in this as it’s estimated that more than 80% of ash trees in the UK will be affected, with only a small number of resistant or isolated trees likely to survive it.
The first bit of positive news is that there is grant funding available.
Through the Forestry Commission, applicable where 50% or more ash trees in any given area are infected, there is funding for felling, with additional support available for replanting and protecting – to include fencing up to £3,500.
The Forestry Commission is primarily looking to facilitate and promote the restoration and maintenance of ancient woodlands, so the maximum level of funding available depends on the nature of the woodland and the species chosen for replanting.
At the lower end, £2,250/ha is available for replanting non-native species on a non-designated site. There are further levels between these two.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with ash dieback on your farm or estate. I recommend putting together a plan which includes different solutions for different areas, to incorporate outgoings, potential income, safety and biodiversity matters.
The most pressing areas to deal with are along roads, footpaths, third-party boundaries and near properties.
Infected ash trees are much more likely to fall, so minimising health and safety risk around people and property is paramount, and you need to ensure these are felled as soon as possible.
At the other end of the scale, where ash is in woodland with no public access, or isolated trees in fields (with the latter being less likely to become infected due to the way spores travel), you have more choice and more time.
Having weighed up the risks – ideally following a visit from an arboriculturist or forester – you may decide that it’s appropriate to leave nature to take its course.
Aside from the cost savings, there are also biodiversity benefits to doing so – the fallen trees will create a habitat for wildlife, and good fertile soil for new trees to naturally take their place. You would also avoid the loss of habitat and carbon sequestration that felling causes.
Brittle timber raises risk
Wherever the ash is located, however, where felling is the right solution, you need to make sure you use an experienced and knowledgeable contractor and get expert advice on the extent of the disease.
One of the effects of ash dieback is making the timber extremely brittle, adding further danger to the felling.
If the trees are located in an accessible area, another consideration is timber value. If the potential income is a factor, then you may wish to harvest sooner rather than later as the timber is likely to have more value before the infection increases and it becomes brittle.
The roadside value for firewood grade timber (wood that is felled but not seasoned or split) can be around £35-£45/t.
You can then follow this with replanting. You’ve asked what you should be planting to replaced felled ash and, again, the answer varies depending on the nature of the site.
If you’re looking at ancient woodland, then you should be looking at native broad-leaf species. Aspen, sycamore and elm would all be suitable, but it’s important that there is a mix, to ensure resilience in the future.
Outside of ancient woodland, these three are still suitable, but you can also introduce non-native broad-leaves and even conifers.
Again, it is crucial that there is a good mix, and you need to make sure you’re choosing species which suit the land type, site conditions and rainfall level.
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