A sunny spring and late frosts have created a “perfect storm” for Ash trees in Dovedale and its surrounding landscape, experts have said, as they embark on a project to remove swathes of infected specimens.
Just over a year after the National Trust announced that 85% of Dovedale’s Ash trees – which make up four out of five of all the trees in the valley – were in danger, workers have been removing large groups of them.
Following a year that delivered the sunniest may on record – speeding up the spread of the fungal disease, the trust’s rangers have identified several areas of Ash-dominated woodland in the White Peak, especially around Ilam and Dovedale, that have been severely impacted.
National tree and woodland advisor for the National Trust Luke Barley explained: “Ash dieback is a catastrophe for nature.
“Our landscapes and woodlands are irrevocably changing before our eyes, and last year’s combination of a dry spring and late frost may have dramatically sped up the spread and severity of the disease.”
Work is already ongoing in Ilam Park, Milldale, Lode Lane and the Pinch and rangers will move to affected areas in the Manifold Valley later this month.
Parish councils and the National Trust have put up signs to warn visitors of the work that is being undertaken, urging them to follow the directions provided.
Ted Talbot, countryside manager for the National Trust in the Peak District said: “There’s a potential risk to the public if the badly infected trees next to footpaths and roads shed limbs as the Ash ‘dies back’.
“We are also concerned that trees in ravine areas suffering from the disease could fall from the steep slopes and damage others beneath them.
“The scale of the die back in many areas of the Peak District is so big that we need to fell and remove trees from roadsides.
“In other places we will leave timber on site and this will soon provide good homes for things like bats and fungi.”
“We would normally leave dead trees in a woodland like this, as they provide good homes for things like bats and fungi.
“However, the scale of the die back here is so big that we need to fell and remove many trees for public safety.”
Ash dieback, or ‘chalara’, is an Asian fungal disease which spread to the British countryside from imported trees carrying the infection six years ago.
The progress of the disease is rapid, since the fungal spores can be carried by the wind for many miles.
Mr Talbot said: “It’s a really sad sight to see, and it is going to cost us a lot to keep paths and roads safe and open until the disease has passed.
“This is difficult and skilled work that we are likely to have to do more and more of every winter for several years.
“We need to manage this disease and mitigate for it, allowing other trees to flourish in place of the ash.
“We’re planting other native trees in areas that have been affected, to preserve the woodland and strengthen its biodiversity.
“Ensuring it continues to support the many hundreds of plant, animal, bird and insect species that currently live here.
“Catastrophic diseases like ash dieback can happen in nature, but if we don’t act now, future generations won’t see anything like the kind of countryside we see in the Peak District today.”
The National Trust is now calling for support for its urgent native-tree planting programme, dubbed the “Woods of the Future” appeal.
To find out more visit nationaltrust.org.uk.