Those people over fifty in the UK will remember the tremendous change to the landscape in many areas of the country as a result of the death of more than 25 million Elm trees from Dutch Elm Disease.
There are fears now that we may see the same loss for Ash from Ash Dieback and Mark Spencer has been representing the NHM in government-organised stakeholder forums and summits as part of the UK response to this invasive alien disease.
Ash Dieback was first seen in the UK in early 2012 in imported nursery trees and in late 2012 in the wider environment in the east of England. It's a disease caused by the fungal pathogen commonly known as chalara (Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus) that has had significant impacts on Ash trees across Europe over the past twenty years.
2013 saw significant development of policy, disease monitoring and raising public awareness and involvement. The UK Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) convened a Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce (chaired by Professor Christopher Gilligan, an NHM Trustee) as part of the response to the outbreak of Ash dieback. The taskforce report recommended better prediction, monitoring and other measures to control the problem. One of the recommendations was for a UK Plant Health Risk Register which was launched on the 21 January 2014.
As a consequence of his work on plant health and the Risk Register in particular, Mark Spencer has been asked to contribute to a Defra-funded consultation on ‘Major drivers of emerging risks in plant health, in particular concerning native broad leaved trees in the UK’.
The Forestry Commission has been active in promoting public awareness and reporting of Chalara through its own website and receives data through web and smartphone tools such as Ashtag. NHM has been developing wider public participation with partner organisations through the OPAL Tree Health Survey that enables members of the public and schools to identify trees and tree health problems such as Ash Dieback with guides and Apps and to submit results as part of scientific research.